Hope and Despair - Season 2023/2024

Hope and Despair


Balancing between hope and despair is something fundamental to both society as a whole and to humans in particular. Being able to hope and to despair sets us apart from the machines around us, from the algorithms that influence our existence, and from the constantly evolving artificial intelligence. It also distinguishes us from other living beings. “As the degree of consciousness increases, so does the intensity of despair,” said the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard.

Growing up as a human being means ‘gathering consciousness’, which in turn means ‘gradually learning to face our own finitude’. We have already achieved many successes in delaying our end. Today, people live longer, find solutions to many medical problems and also develop strategies to pass on their life’s accomplishments - ideas, materialised or not - to future generations. However, this does not take away the tragedy of losing loved ones, sometimes far too early. Then, when wars break out and natural disasters occur, the train of progress, after having gained speed, becomes a woeful procession of Echternach. Hope turns to despair and certainties disappear like snow in the sun.

In such moments, we become aware of our extreme fragility. Our relatively young welfare society, which cares about the underprivileged, about education, healthcare and culture, embedded in a European context and underpinned by a democratic system, is anything but a permanent achievement. On the contrary, it is a highly artificial construct which, precisely because it deviates so much from what is found in nature, is constantly in danger of disintegrating. Order tends towards chaos, and only the goodwill and continued commitment of an entire population can sustain a system like ours. We have to keep hoping every day and continue to seek out these exceptional values with abandon.

This season begins with an ode to Wim Henderickx, whom we asked to be our composer-inresidence, but who passed away unexpectedly and far too early. We open our season with his last major symphonic work, Rejoice! (Hymn for New Times), commissioned by the Belgian National Orchestra and based on the theme of the season: ‘Hope and Despair’. Another work we commissioned from him, his next symphony, will never come to us. In collaboration with Klarafestival and Bozar, we have therefore decided to replace it with Tejas, his greatest orchestral composition. Thank you Wim for so much warmth and hope.

Music is an exquisite art form to deal with the hope and despair we experience. A minor key transports us to a drizzly day when life does not want to flow, while a major key lets the sun break through the clouds. Many musical works show a way out of the darkness into the light. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which principal guest conductor Roberto González-Monjas will conduct in December, is the perfect example. In other works such as Shostakovich’s gently-ending Eighth symphony, which chief conductor Antony Hermus will conduct in October, despair has the last word. The symphonic tradition is special in that the outcome is always the result of a long, hard-won process involving changes in rhythm, dynamics and phrasing. To be able to experience this process as an audience in a concert hall together with hundreds of other spectators is for many a source of inspiration, a moment of connection with our ‘human condition’, an encouragement to face and overcome all challenges again and again with energy and hope.

More than once, deep despair plagued Gustav Mahler’s life. In his symphonic works, however, he sublimated his suffering in a monumental way. Over the course of two years, the three federal arts institutions - the Belgian National Orchestra, Bozar and la Monnaie / de Munt - will perform all of Mahler’s symphonies. The Belgian National Orchestra will kick off this mammoth undertaking with a performance of the First Symphony conducted by Roberto González-Monjas. Later in the season, Antony Hermus will conduct the titanic Sixth Symphony, which we will perform together with the orchestra of la Monnaie / de Munt .

After a Shostakovich and a Rachmaninov festival, we will present a Prokofiev festival under the musical direction of Stanislav Kochanovsky in early February 2024. We will focus on a period that is usually underexposed: Prokofiev’s wanderings in Europe and America between 1918 and 1936. In addition to the Russian composer’s Second Piano Concerto (with Alexander Melnikov) and First Violin Concerto (with Veronika Eberle), the ballets he wrote for Sergei Diaghilev during this period will thrill you without a doubt. In the opening concert, we will also perform some excerpts from his magnus opus, the opera War and Peace, inspired by Tolstoy and particularly relevant to our time.

With chief conductor Antony Hermus, principal guest conductor Roberto González-Monjas and associate conductor Michael Schønwandt, last year was a great success. This season aims to consolidate their relationship with the orchestra. Compared to last season, when he was still ‘chief conductor designate’, Antony Hermus will be much more present. In addition to many regular concerts, he will also conduct the New Year’s Concert and the Queen Elisabeth Competition. Together with Dirk Brossé and Frank Strobel, the curators of the Film Symphonic series, we are also committed to sustainability.

As far as soloists are concerned, not only have we managed to invite several big names (such as pianist Leif Ove Andsnes for the opening concert, violinist Christian Tetzlaff for Sibelius’ Violin Concerto and young cello star Yibai Chen), but we also launched a number of exciting ‘outof- the-box’ projects. One of these is to bring lesser-known repertoire to light, such as Nikolai Medtner’s First Piano Concerto. Belgian pianist Florian Noack will not only perform this work at Bozar, but he will also records it on CD with the Belgian National Orchestra.

Hope and despair are intrinsically human feelings. Music can help us to put things into perspective, to process tragic events, and to bring hope back where despair reigns in all its darkness. I wish you an exciting season full of new discoveries!

Hans Waege