Can you describe what you do?
I am the director of the Alamire Foundation, the Centre for the Study of Music in the Low Countries. It’s a non-profit organisation that was set up 26 years ago by KU Leuven and Musica, to study the wonderful musical heritage of the Low Countries, and enhance its practical and social impacts. This job has led to my involvement in all sorts of projects in Belgium, like with Flanders Festival Antwerp; and abroad, with the European Early Music Network in Paris. Since 2011, Alamire Foundation’s home-base is to be found in the House of Polyphony, located in the unique and historic Park Abbey. I myself live just a stone’s throw away from the Park, in the Matadi neighbourhood: a green neighbourhood full of character, built during the post-war boom in the 1920’s, it was named after the “similar” Matadi district in the DRC. A lovely, quiet place to live in, with plenty of nature and pleasant neighbours!
How do you perceive Leuven?
Leuven is a vibrant city: besides an astonishing number of cultural experiences available in every imaginable discipline, it also boasts an exceptional economic dynamism. Clearly the presence of the University is what creates this vibe; and is also the reason why the city’s residents are made up of fun and positive mixture of young and old, different nationalities and cultures. Leuven is also a great base for travelling elsewhere – I do a huge amount of travelling within Belgium as well as outside for my job, and its central location as well as proximity to the national airport is vital for me.
Leuven stands for innovation – something we are particularly attuned to at the Alamire Foundation.
What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
Its combination of historical heritage and contemporary elements; good urban planning and development in respect to traffic, and its urban greenery all make for a pleasant city to live in. There’s great shops and restaurants to be found here as well – although I don’t have much time to go shopping myself. Besides that, Leuven stands for innovation – something we are particularly attuned to at the Alamire Foundation. Making art and heritage accessible with the help of high-tech tools is the way forward, and we are fully committed to this endeavour. For example, we will be launching a brand-new project, Library of Voices, in Park Abbey’s North Gatehouse in September 2018. We intend to use it to study and enhance the value of the polyphonies of the Low Countries, with Sound Labs.
It’s young, dynamic and anything but provincial.
How would you say has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
Leuven is not just the city where I went to study, met my wife and developed professionally intellectually – I moved here from West Flanders, and ended up staying because one way or another, everything here seemed to click. It’s young, dynamic and anything but provincial. Professionally speaking, the opportunities I was granted through the University and the City have been extremely important for the development of my career and the organisation I’m honoured to lead today. Key figures in Leuven such as Louis Tobback, Marc Vervenne, Koen Debackere, Ignace Bossuyt, Bart De Moor and my mentor Herman Vanden Berghe – who sadly passed away recently – have helped to steer me in the right professional directions over the last 25 years.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
Great efforts have already been made to make the city safer, but I think there’s still more work to be done in this regard. If young families are to find their way to this already densely-populated city and its many excellent schools, it’s important to commit to the protection of the most vulnerable: the children. Safety always has to come first.
If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?
Since there’s so much music to be enjoyed in Leuven – and we’re proud to play an important role in that with Alamire Foundation, and in partnership with the cultural centre 30CC – I would advise visitors to come to Leuven for a weekend in April, and check out a few concerts at our festival of polyphony, Passie van de Stemmen, hosted in the beautiful Park Abbey. While you’re here, it’s also worth visiting PARCUM, the site’s museum.
A local legend, neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
The ideal spot for a quiet pint while watching people strolling around the heart of the city is the Gambrinus. A time-honoured establishment, it’s been here forever: a traditional pub, without music, and quite simply a place to cherish.alamirefoundation.org