Maarten Van Ingelgem © Jochen Schollaert

Introducing the new World Choir Games Artistic Director

Maarten Van Ingelgem appointed Local Artistic Director for the 11th World Choir Games

World Choir Games 2020

While studying piano and composition at the conservatories of Brussels and Antwerp, Maarten Van Ingelgem caught the choir bug. In 2001, he started conducting the Ghent-based chamber choir for contemporary music De 2de Adem (The Second Wind). So far, he has performed 34 premieres with them.

Furthermore, he is one of the bass singers in Aquarius and is regularly invited to conduct or reinforce the bass section of ensembles such as the Brussels Chamber Choir and the Flemish Radio Choir. Maarten has accumulated years of experience compiling programs and organizing concerts for organizations like Jeunesses Musicales. He shares his passion for creativity in his role as Professor of Composition at LUCA School of Arts, Leuven.

His oeuvre as a composer ranges from solo work to string quartets, from a chamber opera to a piano concerto – for which he was awarded the Contemporary Music Prize of the Province of East Flanders. The Belgian author society Sabam honored him with a Golden Poppy for his choral oeuvre, and, twice, he became laureate of the European Award for Choral Composers. He has written compulsory songs for the European Music Festival for Young People in Neerpelt and for the International Choir Contest of Flanders-Maasmechelen. His choral works are sung in Belgium and abroad, and are published by Euprint and Schott Music.

For the 11th World Choir Games Flanders 2020 Maarten Van Ingelgem has been appointed the Local Artistic Director. In this interview he shares some of his ideas concerning the event, talks about choral music in Belgium and even answers some more personal questions: 

Being appointed as the Artistic Director of the World Choir Games - the largest international choir competition in the world: Why do you think it's important for singers and choirs to compete with others?
Competition in arts differs of course from competition in sports: choirs don't compete against each other and it’s not about singing the highest, lowest or longest notes, nor about singing louder than others. Choral singing is about teamwork and about the music itself. A choir competition challenges choirs in reaching a higher level of performance and of communication with the audience.

What is the special challenge of having this major role in an international choir competition taking place in your home country, and welcoming singers from all over the world?
I feel like begin a host bringing together people that mostly won’t know each other yet but share a main interest. The challenge will be to let everyone participate in this big choral party on the one hand and making closer contacts possible on the other. I see myself as a dating bureau, matching choirs that will start a process long before they will meet and finally sing together. This way I’m sure there will be a strong connection for the future, even after the Games will be finished.

What are the special features talking about choral music in Belgium?
We have a long and interesting history in choral music, starting with the Flemish polyphonists, who were very influential on Western music from the 14th to the 16th century. You could draw a line, starting form them and finishing with Bach and even contemporary composers like Ligeti state that they were inspired by their writing for choir. Today our composers build on this tradition looking towards the future. Some of them write in a neo-polyphonic style, others broaden the choral pallet by adding electronics to the performance.
To me the diversity and innovation is striking: e.g. projects like The Voice of our Memory, where singing enhances the life quality of people with dementia, or Shout at Cancer, started by Dr Thomas Moors, a former singer of the Boys Choir Cantate Domino in my hometown Aalst, who uses vocal techniques to help people after laryngectomy. Another special one is the inhaling singing technique, developed by singer-composer Françoise Vanhecke.

What do you want World Choir Games participants to take home from their journey?
A lot of good memories, new friendships and plans for the future. And, of course, music of our composers. As a composer I have had the privilege to work closely with so many singers and the most beautiful moment is always when performers reach this point where they own the music. Then the music becomes independent from the creator. What would composers be without these ambassadors?

What is the best thing for international singers to expect from Flanders?
We live in a small crowded region in the centre of Europe and for ages this region has been the scenery of a lot of international conflicts - only a few days ago we commemorated the end of WW I. History has its influence on a society, so the best things that have come out of this here are conflict handling, a striving for peace, dealing with complexity, creativity, communication and mastery of language (most people speak 3 or more languages). Perhaps those are rather abstract ideas. But don’t worry, we still have our beer culture…

How will choirs from Belgium benefit from international choirs coming to their home country?
Next to making new contacts and friends I see discovering new music (I really hope that choirs will sing and bring music by composers of their country), a high level of and other ways in communicating on stage, and future collaborations as benefits to look forward to.

As a musician, you're famous for both singing and composing. Hand on heart: What makes you more happy?
Singing was a rather late call, actually the first time I sung in a choir was during my first year at the conservatory in Brussels where I studied piano. We performed the Symphony of Psalms by Stravinsky which was an impressive experience. Later on I started following singing lessons to improve my skills as a conductor. And I’m sure I became a better pianist as well by singing. Singing gives me always an instant feeling of happiness, where composing is a more lonely and long terme activity. But if I would have to choose, I would probably prefer to go on composing and leave the singing to others. I think that’s a good compromise.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration in life?
An artist should have an open mind and can find inspiration everywhere. Often you don’t know on the forehand what is going to touch you. It’s important to discover new things, works of art, people and ideas. In order to create something yourself you need time and silence. One of the things that inspire me most would be silence, or the tention between sound and silence, the moment when something is not yet there, or has just passed by and leaves an impression in your mind.

What would you be doing today, if you were not in music?
As a kid I loved to draw, so probably I would be doing something graphically, like design or architecture. The last years it seldomly occurs that I pick up a pencil, although sometimes I add some graphic elements in my scores. Luckily I have two daughters, age 8 and 10, who enjoy being creative this way.

With whom would you like to sing a duet once in your life?
As a singer I feel more comfortable as a chorister and I really don’t have ambitions being a soloist. But if the occasion would occur singing together with Tutu Puoane would be special. She is a wonderful South-African jazz singer who lives in Antwerp for years now. Although I’m trained as a classical pianist I have a heart for jazz, I studied jazz piano only for one year and really hope to pick up this study again. Perhaps this could be the right moment?

From your point of view, what is the greatest piece of choral literature that has ever been written?
Perhaps a surprising thought, but to me music, or even art in general, is not about beauty. Taste is personal and can differ from time to time. It’s about meaning: why did an artist make it and what did he or she wanted to express. This way atonal music can be as beautiful as tonal music. The greatest piece of choral literature would then be Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: waiting for about an hour creates an almost unbearable tention for both singers and the audience. And I know it is not the most comfortable piece to sing but it expresses the reaching for a higher goal. No wonder ‘Alle Menschen…’ was chosen as the European hymn. Since Beethoven had Flemish grandparents (hence the ‘van’ in his name) we will of course celebrate his 250th birthday in 2020 as well.

Maarten Van Ingelgem
November 16, 2018