by Bohdan Sebestik
A few weeks ago, I was asked by Ab Koster to write an article about horn playing and teaching in Portugal. Here are a few words about the issue from my experience, knowledge and view. More complex information would require deep study. Portugal is a beautiful country situated on the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula, with an ocean, mountains, and valley, as well as a Mediterranean lifestyle. Its history is long and rich - from the struggle for independence from Spain, wars with Moors, to impressive world discoveries and conquests at sea. It is breathtaking, the way Portuguese sailors navigated their boats to Africa, India, South America, Japan etc. Here the Portuguese already demonstrated their great capacity and potential to achieve high goals, and it continues to this day.
When I came to Portugal in 1988 from what was then Czechoslovakia, it was 14 years after its revolution (1974). I could still see the consequences of the dictator leadership for a long time, affecting the economy, health care, education and culture in the whole country.
There were only two orchestras in Portugal, one in Lisbon and one radio orchestra in Oporto. I started my work in the 3rd orchestra in Lisbon Nova Filarmonia Portuguesa (a new international chamber orchestra). After a year and a half, I won the audition for a new international orchestra in Oporto, after the old radio orchestra was dissolved. During this time I already started teaching privately due to lack of teachers. Later I started teaching at professional music schools (sort of secondary schools or colleges for music ). After Portugal joined the EU in 1986, it began to receive financial subsidies to improve its economy, roads, culture and also education. This contributed to the creation of a new professional music school. At the time I was asked to teach at three professional schools, where I started almost from scratch. There was enormous potential to create new future secondary and university students, future players and teachers. In 1995 I started teaching horn at the ESMAE in Oporto (Superior School of Music and Performing Arts), where I could fill an educational gap, preparing students for national and international competitions, jobs in orchestras and future teaching engagements. At that time in Portugal, there were only 2 universities offering studies in the horn, in Lisbon and Oporto.
In the beginning it was not easy to teach horn in Portugal. It was considered a second-class instrument, known more for bands. The first-class instruments were piano, violin, cello etc. It was good to teach and play in the orchestra at the same time, to be active as a musician, playing great repertoire with world-class soloists under excellent conductors, as well as playing chamber music. Thus it was not only possible to invite my students to listen to the concerts, but also to be able when necessary to integrate the best students into the orchestra on their road to becoming professionals.
While horn students were graduating from the universities in Oporto and Lisbon, many were also studying abroad, starting to take positions in Portuguese orchestras and outside the country, as well as starting to teach in the music schools, conservatories, and universities. Today there are already several generations of fine horn players and teachers, working inside and outside of Portugal.
Since Portugal does not have the long tradition of horn playing you find in other countries, there is no typically “Portuguese” way of playing. Each player and teacher has a little of their own character, based on the influences of their teacher/school, studying abroad, visiting other Portuguese performers, participating in international events etc. Every year, excellent players and teachers from abroad visit Portugal on Erasmus programs, seminars, master classes, workshops, and as guest performers with Portuguese orchestras. All this has an influence on the development of local horn playing. In addition, Portuguese players/teachers and students go abroad to give solo concerts, to participate in Erasmus programs and seminars, and to play in orchestras and chamber music. Over the last 30 years, it is great to see Portugal becoming integrated into the international horn scene. Horn playing and teaching have made a great leap forward. For this achievement, one can only say: Congratulations, Portugal!
Bohdan Sebestik was born in Kromeriz in former Czechoslovakia. He took up the horn following studies in piano and trumpet. From 1978 to 1982, he attended the Janacek Academy of Music (JAMU) University in Brno, where he completed his Masters degree with Professor Frantisek Solc.
He participated in several national competitions, including the Kraslice National Competition and the JAMU competition of Brno, where he won 1st prize. Soon afterward, Sebestik was the winner of several international horn competitions in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland.
Prof. Sebestik held positions with the orchestra of the Armed Forces in Prague, the Brno Opera, and the Brno Philharmonic. He has been a member of the National Orchestra of Porto since 1994 (solo horn since 2001).
In addition to his performance career, he has been professor of horn and the martial art of Aikido at ESMAE (University of Music and Performing Arts, Porto) since 1995. With former students performing and teaching at a high level around the globe, his influence on the last two generations of Portuguese horn players is enormous.