ESC Insight

ESC Insight

Reviewing Eurovision Choir of the Year 2017

Reviewing Eurovision Choir of the Year 2017

Yes, yes, I know I’m a bit late with this, I’ve been working on a secret project with a song contest artist which you will no doubt find out about in due course! (ahem – Ed). I do hope you were watching the inaugural Eurovision Choir of the Year, and unless you’ve been under a rock for the past two days you will know that Slovenia’s choir Carmen Manet took the title; second place was given to Wales and third place to Latvia.

Celebrate Diversity

I know this was the theme of this years Eurovision Song Contest, but we really saw it come to fruition in Riga. There was a vast diversity of musical and choral styles in the programme, a little something for everyone I’d say. Jazz, chamber, folk, wine-song, African close harmony and a few mad moments along the way, were all showcased by the nine choirs who competed, here’s a bit of a run down (with some opinion) in case you missed it…

We open with a beautiful video which, if nothing else, will make you want to visit Riga, the sun rises over the city and we are treated to some great shots up the river. We move into the arena where representatives of each choir are joined by 600 other singers in a mass choir piece called Fly to Paradise, composed and conducted by Eric Whitacre who is one of our hosts of the evening. We meet our other host Eva, a well-known cultural TV presented in Latvia.

Each choir is introduced by a short postcard video, similar to the song contest and Junior Eurovision, first up is Estonia…

ETV Girls Choir, Estonia

They are choosing to present one entire piece, however it comes in several movements, beginning quiet and ethereal and moves into a more declamatory section. The all-girls choir moves around the stage creating several formations, they are dressed in traditional Estonian costumes, and every one of them has French braids in their hair. The piece finishes with some dramatic vocal sliding and torch lights. This is a wonderful merging of choral singing and folk music, great openers to the show.

Academic Choir of Aarhus, Denmark

Our first mix choir of the night therefore naturally producing a fuller and rounder sound. We begin with the first piece which is somewhat traditional, possibly what you’d expect from a choir, in does in fact remind me a little of the choral section at the beginning of Riverdance. We then move into a very quirk and bold piece for the second part of their programme. I give full credit to those taking the solo leads, they’ve been asked to do something pretty outrageous, which is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Les Pasteureaux, Belgium

Our first view we see the boys in assorted colour polo shirts with black shorts and trousers. I hate to go straight for the outfit choice, but it’s so uncreative and unimaginative that it sets me up to think their programme is likely to be a bit dull. The first piece is good, but kind of what I expected, it’s a great example of timing control. The pause in between the two pieces is just on the wrong side of uncomfortable. The second piece feels like the wrong song for this choir. Almost like the thought we have to do something contemporary or everyone will think we’re old fashioned, yet I think it comes across that this choir is not used to singing this style at all. I want authenticity in the Eurovision Song Contest, I want it in Choir of the Year too please.

Jazzchor Freiburg, Germany

We start with some vocal beat boxing and a sound that wouldn’t be out of place in a remake of The Lion King. This is a bit cheesy but the sound is very impressive, African close harmony is not easy to do at all without wandering off the notes and I must say I’m pretty impressed. The monochrome colouring looks good, sticking to black and white and allowing each performer to choose their own outfit works really well. The second piece is equally cheesy but good – and hey, it’s Eurovison (of sorts) after all, we need a little bit of cheese. There is some great harmony work and the beat boxing continues and definitely adds a finish on to this performance. Think what you’d like, I’d buy their CD.

Carmen Manet, Slovenia

A stylish and classy look and feel coming from the ladies of Carmen Manet. The grey/green colour story looks just stunning on TV, before they’ve even started I’m expecting great things from this choir. A beautiful ethereal and soft start to their programme, with a beautiful vocal tone exhibited by the soloists and the choir as a whole. There is storytelling throughout the performance. Whilst the choir move through a few different styles, they all feel authentic and, well correct, for want of a better word. This choir lack nothing for not having any male voices in it, a well thought out and executed programme.

Bela Bartok, Hungary

Wine and singing, what’s not to love! There is nothing like the power of a male- voice choir. This choir have the ability to present the bold and forceful passages as well as the softer more gentle phrases, transitioning between the two with easy and calmness. It’s very easy in a choir to show too much anticipation of what’s to come and that can leave the audience feeling uncomfortable, none of that here. Hungarian wine-song genre showcased brilliantly. I just wished they’d necked the wine at the end of it – I bet they wanted to!

Cor Merched Sir Gar, Wales

Of course we are expecting to hear the Welsh language here and that is what we’ve got with the first part of the programme. I have to say I’m not loving the outfit that they’ve chosen, it’s a bit too old for a choir of secondary school girls and the colour is not great on TV, however the ethereal celtic sound generated by these ladies is amazing, so pure and so fresh, it’s no wonder Wales has such a great reputation for music. A programme in three parts, the last being probably the most well-known piece of music Wade in the Water, their arrangement of it is amazing, true to the song, yet true to them too.

HardChor Linz, Austria

Another nation known for it’s classical music, but you don’t have to scratch too far below the surface to discover another layer of Austrian music. HardChor Linz are not exactly hardcore as the name would suggest, but more quirky, folky and generally entertaining. Choral singing can be fun and entertaining, it doesn’t have to be standing in rows making cathedral style sounds. The is folk choral music at it’s most happiest, most relaxed and most fun. It certainly won’t be up everyone’s street, but it’s got me (I know, I’m a little biased *waves Austrian flag up high)

Spigo, Latvia

I’m not surprised they put the home nation at the end, knowing it would get a big reception from the crowd. This choir have really bought us full circle, from where we started in Estonia with folk choral music back to that genre of music. The traditional costuming and the musical programme all serve to showcase Latvia’s rich musical heritage. And yet for all that tradition, this feels like a modern choir. There is a beautiful blending of the ancient and modern and each girl looks very comfortable in her part. It is great to see a female conductor too, the only one of the evening, in a role completely dominated by men.


So the three judges made a decision and Slovenia was announced the winner, truth be told that was the one part of the show that was a bit of an anti-climax. Yes we had three world renowned music heavyweights, but where were the international juries, the sense of jeopardy, the 12 points?! Maybe it will come in the future, if this was a year of experimenting to see if it could work as a part of the Eurovision family of events, so I’ll let them off, but if you’re doing it again we need a bit of voting drama, and maybe some hosts who can actually host without looking smarmy or wooden, though of course we know that the words ‘Eurovision’ and ‘hosting’ have never been exactly comfortable together!

Let’s do it all again!

Yes let’s, really, I mean that. It was a great show and as someone who has sung in choirs and vocal harmony groups since the age of 12 (I’m now almost 40) and performed everything from Handel to Conchita and quite a lot in between, I completely enjoyed it. Viewers were introduced to a wide collection of choral genres, choir types and national cultures – long may Eurovision Choir of the Year continue.

Categories: ESC Insight


Your Guide To Tonight’s Eurovision Choir of the Year

Your Guide To Tonight’s Eurovision Choir of the Year

Following on from Wednesday’s introduction to the Eurovision Choir Of The Year where we met our choirs and took a look at the rules of the Choir of the Year Contest, today let’s meet the three judges who will decide which choir will take home the trophy.

The Judges

Elīna Garanča

Elīna Garanča was born into a musical family in Riga, Latvia, where her father was a choral conductor and her mother a singer, under whom she learned at the Latvian Academy of Music before continuing her studies in Vienna and the United States.

It was Garanča’s triumphant 2003 Salzburg Festival debut, as Annio in La clemenza di Tito with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, that was responsible for her international breakthrough. She made her Vienna State Opera debut as Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana and became a regular with the company, initially specializing in Mozart roles before becoming equally dominant in bel canto and Romantic repertoire. Her Viennese appearances included Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro with Riccardo Muti, and seminal accounts of two roles on which she would indelibly put her stamp: Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier and Charlotte in a new, televised staging of Massenet’s Werther. To date, she has sung more than 150 performances with the company.

The Latvian mezzo-soprano is consistently praised for her iconic portrayals of the leading roles in her repertoire. Forging deep connections with each part she plays, she is a consummate artist whose distinctively dark, sultry voice boasts a power and warmth to which her regal bearing and alluring looks provide the perfect counterpoise. She regularly headlines landmark productions at the world’s leading opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, Bavarian State Opera, and Vienna State Opera, where she recently became the youngest female singer to be honored with a Kammersängerin Award.

John Rutter

John was born in London in 1945 and received his first musical education as a chorister at Highgate School. He studied music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he wrote his first published compositions and conducted his first recording while still a student.

His compositional career has embraced both large and small-scale choral works, orchestral and instrumental pieces, a piano concerto, two children’s operas, music for television, and specialist writing for such groups as the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and the King’s Singers. His larger choral works, Gloria (1974), Requiem (1985), Magnificat (1990), Psalmfest (1993) and Mass of the Children (2003) have been performed many times in Britain, North America, and a growing number of other countries.

From 1975 to 1979 he was Director of Music at Clare College, whose choir he directed in a number of broadcasts and recordings. After giving up the Clare post to allow more time for composition, he formed the Cambridge Singers as a professional chamber choir primarily dedicated to recording, and he now divides his time between composition and conducting. He has guest-conducted or lectured at many concert halls, universities, churches, music festivals, and conferences in Europe, Africa, North and Central America and Australasia.

In 1980 he was made an honorary Fellow of Westminster Choir College, Princeton, and in 1988 a Fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians. In 1996 the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred a Lambeth Doctorate of Music upon him in recognition of his contribution to church music. He was honoured in the 2007 Queen’s New Year Honours List, being awarded a CBE for services to music.

There can’t be an Anglican church in the United Kingdom that hasn’t got several copies of Carols for Choirs (in many volumes) or who’s choir has not performed a piece of work by John Rutter. In 2011 John composed a special piece of choral music entitled This is the Day for the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton, which was performed by the choir of Westminster Abbey.

Nicolas Fink

Nicolas was born in Switzerland, where he completed his studies with high honours in choral conducting from the Luzern Conservatory, he also studied voice, earning his concert diploma as a baritone.

Providing listeners with a new perspective on choral music, and creating new kinds of performance experiences are two of Nicolas Fink’s particular pursuits. Mr. Fink conducted the Berlin Radio Chorus’ renowned production Human Requiem at the 44th Arts Festival Hong Kong and at the Klara Festival in Brussels. He conceptualized and conducted the ‘visual concert’ production of the Norwegian premiere of Frank Martin’s Le Vin Herbé with photographer Magnus Skrede and the Edvard Grieg Kor. With the WDR Cologne Radio Chorus, he helped develop and conducted the acclaimed choreographed production of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All Night Vigil.

Nicolas has conducted the radio choruses of WDR Cologne and MDR Leipzig, the Berlin Radio Chorus, the Choeur de Radio France, the Vocalconsort Berlin, the Coro Casa de Musica Porto, the Cor del Palau de la Música in Barcelona, the Edvard Grieg Choir and many others. He also is a sought after chorusmaster and has collaborated with dozens of leading conductors including Sir Simon Rattle, Marek Janowski, and Daniele Gatti. In 2014, he began his tenure as the choral director of the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Chorus.

As an educator, Nicolas directed conducting workshops in Hong Kong and Indonesia, and co-directed the choral conducting masterclass at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival with Simon Halsey. Following his successful collaboration with the Edvard Grieg Youth Choir in Norway, he will continue working with young singers as the conductor of the Swiss Youth Choir.

What You Need To Know

Below is your handy guide to the events this evening, a recap of the choirs and the pieces they will be singing. Of course at the Eurovision Song Contest we spend a lot of time analysing the running orders as they are released, with this being a new competition, everything is a bit speculative. The hunch is that this order slightly favours Estonia, Austria and Latvia – there may be no televote but running order does come into play, even with the calibre of music professionals judging the show.

Eurovision Choir Of The Year 2017, Running Order details

Eurovision Choir Of The Year 2017, Running Order details (Click for full size)

Each Choir will be separated by a ‘postcard’ video, similar to that seen in the Eurovision Song Contest, and the judges will be given five minutes at the end to decide the results. There are four elements that choirs will be judged on:

  • The artistic personality of the Choir
  • Faithfulness to the musical score
  • Quality of the sound and intonation
  • General musicianship

Where And How To Watch

Live TV broadcasts will air in these countries:

  • Belgium (La Trois) 20:00 local time
  • Denmark (DRK) 20:00 local time
  • Estonia (ETV 2) 21:00 local time
  • France (Arte Culture) 20:00 local time
  • Hungary (M5) 20:00 local time
  • Latvia (LTV 1) 21:00 local time
  • Slovenia (RTV 1) as live
  • Serbia (RTS 2) 21:00 local time
  • Wales (S4C) 19:00  local time

They’ll be a delayed broadcast in:

  • Albania (RTSH 1) 22 July, 21:40 local time
  • Austria (ORF 2) 22 July, 22:50 local time
  • Germany (WDR) 30 July, 07:40 local time
  • Germany (SWR) 5 August, 21:20 local time

And if you don’t live in any of those countries then you can watch the livestream through the official YouTube channel.

Categories: ESC Insight


What is the Eurovision Choir of the Year?

What is the Eurovision Choir of the Year?

This Saturday sees the launch of the newest event in the Eurovision family ‘Eurovision Choir of the Year’. I had hoped to be there, as someone who grew up singing in choirs and vocal harmony groups I couldn’t be more excited about this new addition to Eurovision Special Events and my plan was to head off to Riga for the weekend, but alas events keep me at home, so like many, I will be tuned to the livestream on ORF2 on Saturday night (more of that later!) instead.

How It Works

Nine countries will take part and for only the second time in history at an EBU event, the United Kingdom will not take part as a unified nation but the Principality of Wales will take part under it’s own name (the first was when Wales took part in Jeux Sans Frontières from 1991-1994). The contest will be judged by a profession jury made up of multiple award winning mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča (Latvia), world-renowned choral composer John Rutter (United Kingdom) and legendary choir conductor and choirmaster Nicolas Fink (Switzerland). There is no televote, but don’t let that put you off watching, from the choirs that are performing I know you are in for a wonderful evening of music.

Each country is represented by a choir, performing a piece of unaccompanied music lasting no longer than six minutes (twice as long as the Eurovision Song Contest’s three minute rule). Choirs are free to perform a singular piece of music or an arrangement that includes more than one composition, a ‘mash-up’ so to speak! As with the Song Contest, there is no set genre, choirs are free to choose the style and genre that best represents them, but with one caveat the performance should contain national or regional influence from the country they represent. Soloists are allowed but they must note predominate the overall performance and choirs may not use any instruments unless they are played by the choir singers.

Meet The Choirs


Hard-Chor Linz will fly the flag for Austria. A young contemporary mixed choir based (unsurprisingly!) in the beautiful city of Linz. The choir was established in 2007 by a group of dedicated and motivated musicians looking to bring something fresh and new to Austria’s already well-established music history and culture. The conductor and choirmaster is 37-year-old Alexander Koller, who was also one of the founding members, he has a plethora of music and performing arts degrees in his back pocket and works with a number of choirs throughout Austria. Find out more here:


Les Pastoureaux literally translated as ‘The Shepherd Boys’, is an all-male choir from Waterloo (no Abba references please!) The choir was established in 1974 and are known for their repertoire of beautiful and haunting sacred music as well as works by the classical masters (Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn, to name a few). The choir consists of 60 boys whose voices range from soprano to Alto and are supported by 20 teenage and adult males providing baritone, tenor and base vocals. He choir is currently under the direction of Philippe Favette, a life-long music lover who joined the Conservatoire Royal de Liège at the age of 10. Having spent his time working with many choirs and Philippe became the choir’s musical and artistic director in 2006. Find out more here:


Academic Choir of Aarhus were formed in 1985 and consist of around 30 mixed vocalists all connected to the University of Aarhus or the Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus. The all a capella choir’s passion is to showcase new Danish and Nordic choral music and whilst there is a love of the classics, it is in the new contemporary world that this group has firmly found their voice. The choir has released several albums which have all been widely praised both in Denmark and internationally. ACA have recently performed a series of oratorios in partnership with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. ACA’s conductor and choirmaster is Ole Faurschou, he is a graduate of the internationally acclaimed University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, Austria. Ole won the ‘Best Conductor’ prize at the China International Chorus Festival in 2006. Find out more here: (Danish language only)


ETV Girls Choir will take to the stage to represent the Baltic nation. The choir had humble beginning in he Children’s Television Music Studio in Tallinn which was founded in 1990, today the choir comprises 25-30 female singers between the ages of 15 and 25 years old most of whom have a musical education and earlier choral experience. The choir has toured extensively throughout Europe and the USA and it should be noted they are not a new name to the EBU having won 1st prize in the youth category of the EBU’s International Choir Competition Let The People Sing in 2005, they also participated in the 2002 Eurovision Song Contest in Tallinn. The choir is conducted by Estonian classical music star Aarne Saluveer, who has a wealth of experience in choral conduction for prestigious events around the world, if anyone can get the best out of a choir, it’s Aarne! Find out more here:


Jazzchor Frieburg hail from the Black Florest region of Western Germany. A relatively small choir, what the lack in numbers they sure do make up for in talent and passion for music. This multiple award winning choir was formed in 1990 by Bertrand Gröger who remains the director of the choir to this day. The choir have toured Europe, enjoyed success in choir competitions around the world and release four successful albums, they are also sort after for radio and TV recordings which have brought the choir to national and international acclaim. Jazz enthusiast Bertrand himself has enjoyed much success as a choirmaster and conductor. He is also a lecturer at the Mannheim Pop Academy and a much-sort-after singing teacher for jazz, pop and rock vocalists. Find out more here:


Béla Bartók Male Choir carry the hopes of Hungary on their shoulders. Another multiple award winning choir with 42 awards in their trophy cupboard, including wins at the 2006 & 2008 Choir Olympics in Beijing & Graz respectively. Also touring extensively through Europe & the America’s performing to sell out audiences across the globe. This choir is the contest most long-established choir having formed in 1945 and current conductor and choirmaster Prof. Dr. Lanker Tamás began his role in 1980. As well as heading up this international acclaimed choir Prof. Dr. Tamás is currently Professor of Choral Conducting at the Pécs University of Sciences. Find out more here:


Spīgo will be the choir representing host nation Latvia, so expect their performance to go ‘big in the hall’ to borrow a phrase from the Song Contest! Spīgo is actually a school choir, made up entirely of female voice and established in 1977 at Jelgava’s 4th secondary school. The choir celebrate their 40th anniversary this year knowing that they have an impressive history, like all our choirs, having won multiple awards over the years for their outstanding choral vocal ability. Spīgo have been under the direction of Līga Celma-Kursiete since 2004. Līga studied music composition at the Latvian Academy of Music with further studies in The Hague and Copenhagen before moving back to her native Latvia. Find out more here: (Latvian language only)


Carmen Manet, which means “the song remains”, is one of the newest of all the choirs performing in the contest. Established just 6 years ago, this all-female chamber choir has already built up an impressive repertoire and achieved great results in a number of international choir competitions. Added to that just two years after it’s inception the choir released their first CD ‘The Song of the Northern Wind’, which showcases the work of composers from Northern Europe. Primož Kerštanj has been directing and conducting the group since its beginnings. Although this choir maybe relatively new Primož himself has been conducting choirs since 2000 and has a rich background in composing and arranging music for choirs, Primož was a juror at the Linz International Choral Competition, so will his experience on the judging front be helpful to Carmen Manet’s success on Saturday? Find out more here: (English language option available)


Côr Merched Sir Gâr is a female youth choir made up of girls from secondary schools across Carmarthenshire in western Wales. The Welsh people have a long tradition of music and song and, this being the only Celtic country represented, we can expect to see some of that ancient tradition as well as the beautiful Welsh language in their performance. The youngest of our 2017 choirs Côr Merched Sir Gâr was established five years ago but have already been invited to perform at The Royal Albert Hall in London and won the title of Côr Cymru 2017 (Choir of Wales 2017) just a few months ago. It was this win that saw Welsh TV network S4C select them to represent Wales here in Riga. The choir is lead by the ever-so charismatic Islwyn Evans, a popular and much loved figure in Wales, having conducted many choirs in the past, and been a representative of the Association of British Choral Directors, Islwyn brings a fresh new wind to the world of the Welsh choirs. Find out more here:

How To Watch

Depending on where you are in Europe/the World, depends on how you can watch the show. The easiest way is through the official YouTube channel. There are already videos on the channel introducing each of the choirs, so you be up-to-speed by the time Saturday comes around.

I’ll be back on Friday with some more information about the judging, updates from rehearsals and essential viewing information for the 2017 Eurovision Choir of the Year.

Categories: ESC Insight


Eurovision Insight Podcast: Eurovision Castaways, with Ewan Spence

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Eurovision Castaways, with Ewan Spence

Time for our second visit to the Île de Bezençon, as the ESC Insight team gather for our little break over the summer months. Of course the strange rules of being on Eurovision Castaways means you can only have eight Eurovision records and a luxury… and you need to get them past customs.

Ellie Chalkley returns to border duty as Ewan Spence reaches back to Bardo, further back to Gigliola Cinquetti, and forward to Poli Genova and Mika.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Eurovision Castaways, with Ewan Spence

The ESC Insight crew are off to Île de Bezençon for the summer with their favourite Eurovision related songs and stories. Next up, Ewan Spence goes back to the beginning before arguing its not always about the melody.

Keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast over the summer for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight


Eurovision Insight Podcast: Eurovision Castaways, with Lisa-Jayne Lewis

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Eurovision Castaways, with Lisa-Jayne Lewis

Welcome to our new podcast series for the summer months. We’re all looking forward to a break, and the  ESC Insight crew are jetting in from all over the world to visit Île de Bezençon with their favourite Eurovision related songs and stories.

Ellie Chalkley is on border duty as Lisa-Jayne Lewis takes us all the way from Christer Bjorkman to Conchita Wurst as she argues for her eight songs and a luxury to reach the island.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Eurovision Castaways, with Lisa-Jayne Lewis

New for the Summer, the ESC Insight crew are off to Île de Bezençon with their favourite Eurovision related songs and stories. First up, Lisa-Jayne Lewis takes us all the way from Christer Bjorkman to Conchita Wurst.

Keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast over the summer for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight


Portugal’s Big Decision: Where To Host The Eurovision Song Contest

Portugal’s Big Decision: Where To Host The Eurovision Song Contest

Portugal first entered the Eurovision Song Contest in 1964. Since then it has never came close to winning until Salvador Sobral and ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ written by his sister Luísa Sobral scored a runaway victory in Kyiv in May 2017.

In the days following Portugal’s triumph, sources within suggested that host broadcaster RTP implemented its long-standing plan to host the Song Contest in Lisbon. News bulletins confirmed that the likely venue would be the MEO Arena, one of Europe’s largest indoor venues, although unlike recent years, no proposed date for the 2018 Contest was publicly announced.

By the end of May, RTP had come under pressure from politicians and business leaders from other parts of Portugal who wanted an opportunity to host the Contest. Sensitive to complaints about too much centralisation of events in Lisbon, RTP commenced a host city selection process with potential candidates having until the end of June to confirm their interest and make proposals. There are already four confirmed candidates and another two which are also in the process of being submitted.

Setting Requirements And Expectations

On June 13th a delegation from RTP met the EBU’s Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group in Geneva  and the Portuguese broadcaster is now working with a set of requirements that any host city will have to meet in order to be in contention to stage next year’s Song Contest. These requirements include a venue which can hold at least 10,000 people and have sufficient infrastructure to facilitate broadcasting and press facilities. The host city also needs to have a sufficient number of hotel rooms, access to an international airport and sufficient funding to support their bid.

It is believed that RTP has earmarked an initial budget of €20m for the Contest, but the broadcaster is looking at making Eurovision at least cost neutral through ticket sales and sponsorship. The desire to have a balanced budget favours venues which need little refurbishment to be ‘Contest-ready’ and have a large capacity in order to maximise ticket revenue.

Where Could We Go?

Local interest in the Eurovision Song Contest has never been higher in Portugal. Already local fans are getting many expressions of interest in attending next year’s Song Contest, suggesting that unlike Kyiv the event, there will be little trouble selling out the venue. It is also believed that the Portuguese tourist board is likely to be involved as the contest offers a huge opportunity to promote one of Europe’s biggest tourist locations.

The four already confirmed host cities are Lisbon, Braga, Santa Maria De Feira and Gondomar. Two other candidates are likely to be confirmed with Portimão and Guimarães entering the process and there is also a rumour that Funchal on the island of Madeira may be preparing a bid.

Lisbon: The MEO Arena

The Portuguese capital remains the odds on favourite to host Eurovision 2018 as it is the only option that clearly meets all the EBU criteria and offers the biggest venue for maximising ticket revenue. While Lisbon has other venues which could stage the contest, nowhere comes close to the MEO Arena. Originally known as Pavilhão Atlântico, it is a multi-purpose indoor arena which has a capacity of 20,000 people. Built in 1998 for Expo ’98 and currently named after its main sponsor, MEO, it would almost certainly revert to its original name for the Eurovision Song Contest.

Lisbon's MEO Arena

Lisbon’s MEO Arena

The spaceship-like arena, which is actually designed to look like an over-turned boat, offers everything that anyone would ever require for an ideal Eurovision venue. As well as the main concert area, which has staged many big international music acts, sporting events and the famous Web Summit (which was lured away from Dublin in 2016), there are two buildings in the same Parque das Nacoes complex which could work as a press centre and a Euroclub; Sala Tejo and F.I.L. (Feira Internacional de Lisboa). The nearby Oriente station is on the Lisbon metro line and also serves the national rail network. MEO is also close to Lisbon’s international airport and perhaps most importantly for cost saving, close to the headquarters of RTP.

In reality, it is hard to see any alternative venue coming close to MEO Arena in terms of facilities and as a major and growing tourist resort, Lisbon offers more than enough hotel rooms and international flights.

Braga: Parque de Exposições

The mayor of Portugal’s fifth biggest city has made an ambitious proposal to host the Song Contest, suggesting that the currently under construction Exhibition Park could stage the contest. When completed next spring, the concert hall should be able to hold 15,000 people. Other buildings in the complex could be used for press and broadcast facilities.

Braga: Parque De Exposicoes

Braga: Parque De Exposicoes

Despite the city’s growing tourism trade and a reputation as a young and lively city, it suffers from two additional challenges on top of not having an already established venue. Braga – which is Portugal’s most northerly major city – is not close to an international airport and it does not have a sufficient number of hotel rooms.

Braga is over 50km from Porto Airport and over 350km from Lisbon, although transport links to both airports are good. Vigo and Santiago airports in North West Spain are also an option but transport links are poorer. Hotel rooms of a sufficiently high quality would be a major challenge and it’s hard to see Braga as a serious contender to host the Contest. Even if you establish a generous radius of 50km, you barely get to 11,000 hotel rooms.

Some media sources have speculated that this bid is more to do with getting publicity for the city and its aspiring mayor than being a serious candidate to host. The city’s mayor Ricardo Rio is seen as the major cheerleader for this bid and the publicity gained from being seen as a Eurovision host candidate will support his political ambitions and help both him and his city gain national and international attention, even if only for a few weeks.

Santa Maria De Feira: Europarque

Santa Maria De Feira is a municipality of 18,000 people, 30km south of Porto and is seen as being the strongest rival to Lisbon to host the Eurovision Song Contest in 2018. The Europarque is a modern congress facility built in 1995 and is part of a complex used to host concerts, conventions, conferences and fairs. The capacity of the main arena is 11,000 people and other buildings in the complex could be used for press and broadcast facilities. While it has a venue, like Braga, Santa Maria De Feira suffers badly in comparison to Lisbon when it comes to hotels and transport infrastructure. The nearest airport is in Porto, but it is on the other side of the city and there are few hotels or indeed anything else of note, bar a landmark castle, in the town of Santa Maria De Feira itself.

Santa Maria De Feira's Europarque

Santa Maria De Feira’s Europarque

The lack of hotels would mean that technical staff, delegations and press would face a long daily commute from Porto or Vila Nova de Gaia to get to the venue. However it is believed that a lot of money and business and political support is behind this bid as the Europarque facility is struggling to attract the business that was originally planned for it.

Again, local politics is playing a major role in this bid. Europarque was removed from the control of AEP, the Portuguese Business Association in 2015, following financial irregularities and handed over to Santa Maria De Feira’s city administration who have struggled to maintain its financial viability. This bid puts Europarque back in the Portuguese press and in a positive light. This bid may be more about getting free publicity for the venue than a serious challenge to host the Song Contest.

Gondomar: Multiusos de Gondomar Coração de Ouro

While it may sound like a location in ‘Lord of the Rings‘, Gondomar is actually a municipality of 170,000 people, 16km to the east of Porto, Portugal’s second city. The distinctive round red multipurpose venue was designed by well-known architect Siza Vieira and completed in 2007. The venue which is predominantly used for indoor sports has a standing capacity of 8,000 spectators but has few surrounding facilities for the Eurovision circus.

Gondomar's Multiusos de Gondomar Coracao de Ouro

Gondomar’s Multiusos de Gondomar Coracao de Ouro

Gondomar suffers from the same issues as Santa Maria De Feira, having few hotels nearby, meaning a long daily commute from either Porto or Vila Nova da Gaia, although Gondomar is closer to Porto and its international airport. Gondomar is believed to be the preferred bid by politicians and business leaders from Porto (which itself does not have a suitable venue – the Rosa Mota Pavilion in the centre of the city is currently beginning a process of refurbishment which means that it will not be available in May 2018).

Gondomar ticks very few of the necessary boxes to host Eurovision, with a low capacity venue, long commutes from Porto due to the lack of nearly hotel rooms and poor transport infrastructure. However as the country’s second city Porto has to be seen to be interested in hosting all major international events staged in Portugal and there is fierce rivalry between the country’s most affluent city of Porto and  the nation’s capital of Lisbon.

Portuguese media and Eurovision fans have speculated that while Lisbon may end up hosting Eurovision, a venue in Porto is likely to be chosen by RTP to host Festival da Canção, the show that select’s Portugal’s entry.

Giumaráes: Pavilhão Multiusos de Guimarães

Another northern city, Guimarães has a population of 160,000 and is 20km, south-east of Braga and 50km, north-east of Porto and its international airport. Guimarães is a very historic city and a former Portuguese capital, with a strong tourist trade. While it has still to officially confirm that it is a candidate to host Eurovision in 2018, sources inside RTP are expecting a bid that uses the multi-purpose Pavilhão Multiusos de Guimarães as a potential venue.

Giumaraes' Pavilhao Multiusos de Guimaraes

Giumaraes’ Pavilhao Multiusos de Guimaraes

While the venue is ideally located in relation to the city and has a capacity of up to 10,000 spectators – which is likely to be halved once a stage and camera positions are installed – there are some minor press areas in place, but a temporary facility for a proper press centre would need to be built. There are rumours that this bid may include offering the venue for a nominal charge in order to draw the event to the city. A similar arrangement was the deciding factor in Dusseldorf being awarded the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. However without sufficient hotels and access to an international airport, Guimarães would be a surprise host city and a successful bid may well raise concerns about the ethics and transparency of the host selection process.

Portimáo: Portimão Arena

The city authorities in Portimão in the Algarve in southern Portugal are believed to be preparing a bid to host Eurovision, based on using the city’s recently completed arena as the venue. Portimão is a town of 55,000 people that has become one of Portugal’s biggest tourist resorts in recent years, thanks mainly to its beach area, Praia da Rocha.

Portimao's Portimao Arena

Portimao’s Portimao Arena

Hotels should not be a problem for this bid, due to the town’s tourist trade and its proximity to many other resort towns but Portimão is 66km from the nearest international airport in Faro and the venue is far from ideal. The Sala Algarve hall in the Portimão Arena only has a standing capacity of 8,000 although the complex does have plenty of other facilities for press and technical staff.

Like the Braga bid, this is thought to have more to do with publicising the area than a serious contender to host the event. The city authorities in Portimão have a strong reputation for gaining international publicity and this bid would show that there’s more to the city than beaches and sun based entertainment.

Everyone Has The Right To Be Considered

When you look at the shortcomings of the rival bids, it is hard to see any real alternative to Lisbon. The MEO Arena is an ideal venue for the Eurovision Song Contest and Lisbon has everything needed to be the perfect host city. It would therefore be a huge shock if the Song Contest went elsewhere. However RTP wants to be seen as seriously considering other options and not being Lisbon-centric.

Sources well-placed in RTP suggest that as a consolation for not getting to host the Song Contest, one of the other candidate cities will be selected to host Festival da Canção, the national selection to choose Portugal’s entry, with the Porto area likely to be preferred. RTP is expected to announce the Eurovision host city, the date for the contest and preliminary details of Festival da Canção in the near future. For its 2018 entry, it is likely that RTP will repeat the formula that brought success in 2017, with invitations to prominent Portuguese songwriters.

What About The Hosts?

While it waits from the completion of the host city process, RTP is also looking at other details of the 2018 Contest. Actress and TV presenter Catarina Furtado is believed to be the favourite to present the contest. Catarina is a well-known face on Portuguese television and co-hosted the final of Festival da Canção in March. She has perfect English, having studied acting in London. Whether she presents the Song Contest alone or with a co-presenter is still not decided.

Katarina Furtado

Katarina Furtado

Press speculation in Portugal suggests that RTP may also approach footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and Portuguese-Canadian singer/songwriter Nelly Furtado to play an on-air role, while it is known that the broadcaster is already seeking suggestions for Eurovision interval and opening acts.

While there may not be a lot of officially confirmed news so far, RTP is already working hard on next year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Categories: ESC Insight

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