Portugal Tour Blog 25 June - 4 July 2016

Soprano Ellie Bray writes: After a short and painless flight, we arrived in Porto just as the sun was setting on Saturday evening. This being the day after the Queen's Commemoration Ball, many members of the choir were keen to get a good night's sleep as we got to the hotel!

View over Braga from Sameiro where we are staying

Our first performance of the tour was singing for Mass at Braga cathedral on Sunday morning, followed by a tour of some of its more secluded chapels. After this we found some lunch before heading off on another tour.

Around Braga

The first stop was at the São Martinho de Tibães Monastery. It was fascinating to see how resourceful the monks had been in using local materials to build and restore parts of the monastery.

São Martinho de Tibães Monastery

We then headed off to Bom Jesus do Monte, a pilgrimage site just outside of Braga. While usually pilgrims would approach the shrine by climbing the stairway which climbs 116 metres, we took the funicular instead.

Funicular selfie

There were spectacular views from the hill, and the Basilica included a 3D life size display above the altar.

The Grotto at Bom Jesus

We then headed back to the hotel at Sameiro for a swim and some dinner. We are excited to visit and sing in other beautiful venues later on in the week. Ellie Bray, soprano

Sameiro at sunset

Tenor Lachlan Hughes writes: On the third day of the tour we travelled south to idyllic Viseu. After a quick jaunt around the city we rehearsed in the cathedral (or ‘Sé’ in Portuguese) and prepared for the evening’s concert, after which we had the afternoon free to explore.

Rehearsal in Viseu Cathedral
Waiting for lunch

Viseu had many highlights, but the cloisters in the cathedral were particularly appealing (and shady!) and before long became home to a a gaggle of choir members - reading, napping, playing cards, eating peaches and cherries from the nearby fruit vendor.

The shady cloisters
Traditional Portuguese tiles on the cloister walls
Just before the concert
In concert

The concert went fantastically, and afterwards we were taken out to dinner in a local restaurant by the Mayor of Viseu along with some members of the would-be royal family of Portugal. The food and hospitality were both excellent, though meal times in Portugal seem to be many hours later than we’re used to in Oxford, and it was a very sleepy choir that boarded the bus back towards Braga at around midnight.

The beautiful town of Ponte de Lima

The following day we had the morning off to catch up on sleep and relax in our hotel in Sameiro before heading north to Ponte de Lima, reputedly the oldest village in Portugal (the ‘Ponte’ in question is a medieval bridge which spans the width of the river Lima next to the town). We followed our usual routine of rehearsing briefly in the church, this time the ‘Igreja Matriz’ (my friend Olivia who studies Portuguese and French assures me that this means 'womb church’), and then explored the gardens on the other side of the bridge.

The gardens in Ponte de Lima

After a sumptuous dinner with the the sponsors of our concert we performed to a packed church and then headed back to our hotel. Lachlan Hughes, tenor


Tenor Matthew Reese writes: On Thursday, the Choir travelled to the city of Oporto, famous for the many wine merchants and warehouses that line the banks of the River Douro. There, we enjoyed a tour and tasting at the famous Cálem winery, and broke for lunch before taking a short tour by boat. Oporto is a striking city, perched alongside steep cliffs, and connected by a half-dozen bridges, ranging from modern suspensions, to an early work by Gustave Eiffel.

Port tasting and river cruise

After following the river to the city’s edge, we returned to the centre and back up the hill to Livraria Lello & Irmão, a beautiful beaux-arts bookshop with a winding spiral staircase, cantilevered – as if by magic – in the very centre of the store. There we sang a short recital including a piece from the film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, originally recorded for the soundtrack by Queen’s.

Performing at Livraria Lello

That evening’s concert was held in the immense Igreja da Lapa, the biggest venue on the Choir’s tour, with one of the largest pipe organs in the country. This concert, organised in part by the Order of Malta, included Parry’s I Was Glad, and Bainton’s And I Saw a New Heaven, in conjunction with our organ scholar, Becky Baker. We enjoyed a large and enthusiastic audience – though many concertgoers took advantage of the interval to check stats in the ongoing Portugal – Poland football match.

The choir rehearses in Lapa Church
Lapa Church, Oporto
Post-concert glow

On Friday, the Queen’s Choir returned to Braga, performing in the city’s exceptional cathedral – a peculiar mixture of Gothic, Manueline and High Baroque architectural gestures. High above the entrance to the nave are two monumental gilded organs, and at the west end is a richly adorned choir gallery with carved seats for the Cathedral chapter. After performing to a very sizeable and receptive audience, we ended the evening with an encore performance of Et Vidi Angelum, a new commission for our forthcoming CD 'A New Heaven', composed by choir member and a recent music graduate, Marco Galvani.

Braga Cathedral

The next day, we headed to the university city of Coimbra, where teaching has occurred since 1290. The Choir took a tour of the university’s historic campus on the hill, catching a unique glimpse into the baroque library (where the college still keeps a half-dozen bats to protect the books and furniture from pests).

University of Coimbra

After we descended into town, we gave a matinee concert at the Monastery of Santa Cruz, presenting a series of Portuguese works, some of which were originally composed for the space (and have been edited by our director of music, Prof. Owen Rees). It was a terrific opportunity to sing works by Pedro de Cristo and Diogo Dias Melgás in the kind of acoustic for which they were intended.

Rehearsal at Santa Cruz
In concert at Santa Cruz

After the performance, members of the choir decamped to the beaux arts café next door, enjoying drinks in what used to be one of the church’s side chapels. Matthew Reese, tenor

Post-concert drinks in the cafe next door

Director Owen Rees writes: On the final day of the tour, the choir travelled to Batalha, a fifteenth-century church and monastery complex of breath-taking grandeur and one of Portugal’s greatest historic monuments.

The cloisters at Batalha

For the procession at the end of Mass we sang a dramatic setting of the famous Marian antiphon Salve regina by the Portuguese composer Diogo Dias Melgás (1638–1700), and this was followed by a recital to (once again) a hugely appreciative audience. The fabulously generous acoustics of the monastery church provided thrilling ambience for such pieces as Bruckner’s Os justi and our own Marco Galvani’s Et vidi angelum.

After lunch in a nearby restaurant provided by our hosts, we had time to look around the extraordinary unfinished royal chapels at the East end of the monastery church, with their lavishly elaborate stonework, before returning to Fátima.

The magnificent unfinished chapels at Batalha

The original (1920s) basilica of the great Marian shrine at Fátima – which attracts millions of pilgrims – was the venue for our final concert, which again followed directly the evening Mass (during which we sang three motets). Another thrilling acoustic – and another capacity audience – brought the musical part of the tour to a moving conclusion.


The last evening of the tour was spent relaxing in the gardens (and swimming pool) of a beautiful mountain-side villa set below the medieval castle of Ourém. Owen Rees, director

View at Ourém
We were lucky to catch a beautiful sunset

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