Music Chapel Gala Concert

Interview -  Bernard de Launoit

CEO of the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel


The Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel began its 80th anniversary season in July 2019. The COVID pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns forced the institution to postpone several of the events they had planned, including their Gala concert. It will now be held on 14 March 2022. Bernard de Launoit, CEO, tells us about the history and the future of the Chapel.


With a bit of a delay, your institution will be celebrating its 80th anniversary with the Belgian National Orchestra. What were the Chapel’s objectives when it was founded? How does it retain its vitality after so many years?

Following a reflection on the relevance of our teaching methods, in 2004, we began to implement an updated model, which includes a new artistic curriculum, and aspects related to access to the stage.

The (mostly Belgian) young adults used to arrive with their professors when they came out of the conservatory. Now, they audition to work with a particular maestro, which means we’ve had to add more sections, from three in 2004 to six today: violin, viola, cello, piano, chamber music and singing.

The evolution has also accelerated over time. In addition to restructuring the content, we have sought to improve the quality of our teaching and to become more international. So much so, that this year we have 72 young people from 28 different nationalities.

After all this time, strong links must have been forged between the Chapel and the Orchestra, both on a human and artistic level. Could you tell us a little more about this?

It’s important to note that the two institutions were established at the same time, between the two world wars.
It was a time of great cultural vitality, which saw the birth of the Centre of Fine Arts, the Maison de la Radio, the Queen Elisabeth Competition, etc. Because of its history and context, we are very attached to the Orchestra. Moreover, the Belgian National Orchestra, partly because of its mission, gives a lot of concerts throughout the country. In this respect, it is unique. Our philosophy has been to establish long-term partnerships.

As I mentioned, the renewal of our model also involves access to the stage. The Belgian National Orchestra has a role to play in this. In 20 years, we have also become a concert producer and partner. We now offer our youngsters between 250 and 350 concerts a year. We also have them play in symphony orchestras so that they can add this experience to their professional portfolio.

Every two years, the Belgian National Orchestra plays the final concert of the Queen Elisabeth Competition. This is a time when our musicians have the opportunity to accompany and work with prodigious young talents, who usually perform at the Chapel. This was the case again with this year’s winner, Jonathan Fournel. How do you coach such talents to reach such a level?

I think that the young people who come to us are attracted by a certain tradition, particularly evident in our choice of professors, who have a similar aesthetic, in addition to their individual personalities. We also focus on what our talented youngsters need in order to advance.

We remain very much in line with the philosophy inspired by the creator of the Chapelle, Eugène Ysaÿe: companionship and the transmission of the art of music. We retain the spirit of this place, which is a place of residence, where young people can work and spend time together, where they still have the
opportunity to play with their elders.

In reality, we offer something different from the conservatoires: we offer an environment where they can rehearse and concentrate in peace and quiet, in their studio and in a setting surrounded by nature, yet close to Waterloo and Brussels.

Could you tell us a little more about the Gala event calendar and the soloists?

The central focus is obviously Brahms’ Double Concerto, which is a work for violin and cello. This is an opportunity for us to put forward the philosophy of companionship that I spoke of earlier. It will be performed by Gary Hoffman [cello master-in-residence] and Júlia Pusker [5th prize of the 2019 Queen Elisabeth Competition Violin Finals]. Júlia is an incredible artist with whom we have a long-term relationship and of whom we are extremely proud.

We will also perform Dvořák’s Cello Concerto No. 2. The soloist has not yet been chosen. In any case, it will be one of the candidates for the 2022 Cello Competition. This concerto will be played as the finale.

A final word for the audience of the Belgian National Orchestra?

The orchestra’s audience has always been important. And these opportunities are essential for us to share moments with both your audience and ours, and let alone to discover these young artists.