Can you describe what you do?
I have the honour and pleasure of being the director of the Flanders Festival in Mechelen and the Kempen region. For almost 50 years, this classical music festival has changed the musical atmosphere in Mechelen. In 2018, we renamed our spring edition LUNALIA, because we wanted the connection with the city to resonate even more, and we did so through the local legend of the ‘moon extinguishers’.
Our office is situated in one of the most beautiful buildings of the city, De Zalm, which dates back to 1530. At that time, Mechelen was not only the centre of The Netherlands, but it was also home to some of the most influential renaissance composers, such as Pierre De La Rue, a historical connection which remains palpable in the city.
The beauty of organising a Festival lies in the wide diversity of people you get to work with, ranging from the mayor’s office to the local bakery who bakes ‘moon cookies’ for us.
How do you perceive Mechelen? In your view, what kind of city is it? Its people, its cultural landscape, its vibe? How does it compare to other, similarly-sized cities?
Mechelen is a phoenix that is about to spread its wings after rising from the ashes. Centrally located between Antwerp and Brussels, it is quite a small city but it has a big heart, and always welcomes everyone with open arms, especially when the newcomers want to help improve the city and make history.
What would you say is Mechelen’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?
Mechelen combines the past and future in a vibrant present. The city boasts a rich history and a wealth of patrimony, but Mechelen is also looking forward towards the future by building the new city museum and a new library. You can already tell it is destined to become one of Flanders’ major art cities, a place where everybody wants to live and where the true Burgundian spirit welcomes all!
How has Mechelen contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?
In my opinion, the curator of a festival is always in some form shaped by the town where he/she is organising the festival. Every city has its own vibe and its peculiar needs, and one has to get in touch with this locality in order to create the festival the city really needs. Only in Mechelen can a festival like LUNALIA really work. The moon is connected to Mechelen, as is the historical tradition of polyphonic singing… and thus the road is paved.
On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?
The restaurants tend to close way too early, which can pose a problem for hungry artists who are looking for some grub after a late-night performance. Besides this inconvenience, I hope the city will become even more vibrant on a cultural level.
To you, what is the best way to spend a weekend in Mechelen?
Here’s my proposal for a ‘Mechelen experience’: go to the ‘Groen Waterke’ and read the poem by Herman De Coninck which is displayed there. Have a beer at the city brewery, linger for a moment in front of the Rubens painting in the O.L.V.-over-De-Dijle church, visit Hof van Busleyden and/or Kazerne Dossin and howl at the moon at night.
Of course, I would also recommend to visit our music festival LUNALIA in April and May. It is a unique way to get to know the city.
Can you talk to us about a local legend, a neighbourhood anecdote or urban myth that, to you, encapsulates the spirit of the city?
Not many people know that the first Ludwig (Louis) Van Beethoven, the grandfather of the world-famous composer, was born and raised in Mechelen. He was actually the first musician of the family, and was taught his skills at the Koraalhuis and the Cathedral of Mechelen. Later on, he became a Kapellmeister in Bonn, the city where his notorious grandson would later be born. This is the reason why the Beethoven year 2020 will be celebrated in style by the Festival and the city – because it all started in Mechelen!lunalia.be