Inside the Brussels Philharmonic

A week in the life of Gunther Broucke, general manager of the Brussels Philharmonic  

Having spent time in Vienna, Paris and New York in January, I’m pleased to be back in Belgium for a full seven days. This morning I meet with PMV, a large investment company that’s showing interest in some of our commercial projects.

Together with our chairman Baron Hugo Vandamme, I have lunch with the Vice-Minister-President, Geert Bourgeois, in order to listen to his feelings about recent and future developments at our orchestra, as well as the general cultural landscape in Flanders. In our position as [cultural]managers, it’s always important to keep one eye on politics.

In the afternoon I have a quick catch-up with the office before driving to our fortnightly board meeting. The room is full of good vibes; the constructive, creative and positive atmosphere makes me feel happy that I work here.

To remind me of what our business is all about, I participate in a wrap-up meeting with my colleagues from the artistic, production and communication departments for an overview of the 2014-15 season. This is more or less past tense for me, since I’m already planning future seasons.

Contracts, flight schedules, rehearsal schedules, fees, you name it: in two hours, we have covered some three months of planning. I excuse myself early for an important lunch with a new sponsor, Laurent-Perrier. They’re showing a lot of interest in what we’re doing, as they have invested a lot of energy into the orchestra. After lunch, it’s time to get some pending files finished and then home to have one night off with the kids.

Gunther Broucke © Saskia Vanderstichelen

Gunther Broucke © Saskia Vanderstichelen

I hit the road rather early in order to meet with our lawyers and notary about some details concerning the Brussels Philharmonic Foundation. This is followed by lunch with another potential investor; he’s talking about investing between €500,000 and €1m, and it turns out during further discussion that he is in fact representing a whole group of private investors. This entire initiative [the instrument fund]really strikes a positive chord within investment circles.

Read: Brussels Philharmonic Foundation announces first investors

Later that afternoon it’s back to Brussels to attend two receptions, one hosted by the unions, the other by a big industrialists network. It’s an unlikely combination, and it’s strange how different people’s opinions on the same matters can be, especially opinions regarding measures that must be taken to maintain and expand the level of welfare and wellbeing in our country. If we want to safeguard our welfare, we will need strong leadership and cohesion from all social, economic, political and cultural environments.

I finish the day with a few late night drinks with some friends (who are not in the arts, for once).

It’s audition day. From more than 300 candidates, we selected around 30 double bass players to audition for the position of leader of the section. Unfortunately it’s a full day of von Dittersdorf, Wanhal, Bottesini, Koussevitzky and lots of orchestral excerpts.

But we end the audition on a very happy note – unusually for us, we all manage to agree on one candidate: a 23-year-old musician, playing as though his life depended on it. I hope he keeps up this spirit after serving 20 years in the orchestra, although that’s also a large part of our responsibility.

I enjoy a nice dinner with one of my concertmasters; it’s good that we’re on the same page, sharing hopes, beliefs, passion and love for music as an art form and the symphonic orchestra as an instrument.

Brussels Philharmonic © Philippe Stirnweiss

Brussels Philharmonic © Philippe Stirnweiss

I meet with fellow orchestral managers in the offices of the Queen Elisabeth Competition to agree on workable schedules for next year’s laureates. Although there’s lot of goodwill and diplomacy, it’s always a bit of a struggle because of the fine line where colleagues become competitors.

In the afternoon, I spend some productive time in the office, before heading out for a dinner with Lena De Meerleer who’s just become the general manager of Kunsthuis, the newly merged opera and ballet companies in Flanders. I think she will do a great job. I think it’s a nice company with an interesting vision, and I feel we might collaborate in the future.

The classical radio station in Flanders, Klara, organises a huge music party in Antwerp every year, inviting dozens of artists to perform in the beautiful surroundings of deSingel International Arts Campus. Audiences attend in the thousands.

In the afternoon, our Flemish Radio Choir brings me to tears with a breathtaking Fauré Requiem conducted by my beloved Hervé Niquet. I feel like an old man, sitting silently in a dark corner of the hall and not fighting against my emotions during Libera Me. But it’s these moments which show us why we are doing what we’re doing.

Brussels Philharmonic closes the day with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade, and sends the packed audience to their feet. It’s been a really great day for classical music.

Today is more or less a day off. I really need to send some mail and spend some quality time at home before driving across the border to Germany for a concert at the Kölner Philharmonie with the orchestra and Michel Tabachnik. It’s a full house again – we get an immediate re-invitation and, hospitality not being an idle word in Cologne, some deliciously refreshing beers after the concert. The weekend has gone by quickly!

The Brussels Philharmonic will perform at London’s Cadogan Hall on 21-23 February.

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