Orquestra XXI was founded in 2013 as a project to bring together Portuguese musicians that live abroad. It was created with the joint purpose of keeping a strong link between these musicians and their home country, as well as of taking performances of great music to the widest possible audience. Since its debut tour in September 2013, the orchestra has established itself as one of the leading performing groups in Portugal, under the direction of Dinis Sousa, and has been a regular presence in all the major concert halls in Portugal, such as Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Casa da Música, Centro Cultural de Belém, as well as in less traditional spaces such as Tibães and Batalha Monasteries, impressing both audiences the critics alike and being regularly broadcast on radio and television.
Meeting in Portugal about three times a year, Orquestra XXI presents a varied programme that explores the versatility of its players, appearing sometimes as an ensemble, baroque orchestra or symphony orchestra. Highlights in recent seasons include Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri with the Gulbenkian Choir and an international cast led by James Gilchrist and Sónia Grané, semi-staged performances of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream with actor Ricardo Pereira, and the creation of Coro XXI for Bach’s St. John Passion.
The orchestra has so far involved more than 200 musicians who live all over Europe and work in orchestras such as the Münchener Philharmoniker, Oper Zürich and the Orchestre National de France, or are studying in schools such as the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler or the Royal Academy of Music, amongst many others. An important part of the project is the educational work that the orchestra develops, regularly inviting students from Portuguese music schools to take part in side-by-side rehearsals with the orchestra. In these sessions, the orchestra gives young students the opportunity to work in a professional context with high performance standards, also providing them with a network of contacts that can help them keep informed about different possibilities for their training and professional development.
It was this idea of creating a platform to enable the musicians who have left Portugal to be able to share their experiences with their home country that earned Orquestra XXI the 1st Prize in the social entrepreneurship competition "Ideias de Origem Portuguesa" [Ideas of Portuguese Origin], promoted by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in partnership with Cotec Portugal, as well as the High Patronage from the President of the Republic of Portugal.
“In this concert, Orquestra XXI showed a clear awareness of how sharing is the means to achieve a balanced, rigorous and profoundly expressive performance.” (Pedro M. Santos in Público)
“The initiative is especially commendable for its artistic quality (...) In the second half, with Brahms’s 1st Symphony, it was the moment for Orquestra XXI to shine, showing a strong cohesion as a whole, balanced sonorities and a mature interpretation.” (Cristina Fernandes in Publico)
“An orchestra needs time, rehearsals, discipline and galvanising direction - and this result, achieved in such a short period of time, is a miracle!” (Jorge Calado in Expresso)
“The artistic maturity of the performance was as much worthy of note as was its youthfulness, as the protagonists were, besides the Gulbenkian Choir, the Orquestra XXI, made up of young Portuguese musicians living abroad, conducted with clarity and sensitivity by Dinis Sousa.” (Manuel Pedro Ferreira in Público)