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Belgian carillon bells in Ostend | © sophie/Flickr
Belgian carillon bells in Ostend | © sophie/Flickr

A Guide To The Belgian Carillon City Concerts Of Summer

Picture of Nana Van De Poel
Updated: 27 July 2016
In Belgium, summer in the city has been going hand in hand with the chiming of carillon bells for over five centuries. Major cultural hubs such as Antwerp, Mechelen, and Bruges uphold the tradition by inviting international musicians to their belfries to play the precious carillons they house in free concerts for anyone to enjoy. We offer you a guide on where to go to hear an essential part of Belgian heritage liven up the evening sky.

Mechelen

Mechelen might be the carillon capital to beat. As the home to the oldest, largest and arguably most renowned international school for carillonneurs, the Royal Carillon School Jef Denyn, it has alumni frequently flying back in for a summer concert from its St. Rumbold’s Cathedral. It’s the place where Jef Denyn revived and improved the carillon in the late 19th century as a musical instrument – the heaviest in the world – so true emotional expression became possible. Its old use as an alarm signal for the city and surrounding villages in the Middle Ages was long over by then, and now its musical era had arrived.

By last century, talented musicians from across the world came knocking at the doors of Denyn’s school to learn the instrument requiring so much virtuosity. These students have now become masters, and many of them have returned to Belgium to put the St. Rumbold’s bells to work on Monday evenings. At other times, the mobile carillon will be rolled out to take part in musical fairy tales for the young and old to enjoy, or even to join a jazz ensemble for the closing concert.

Notable upcoming concerts:

August 1: Rachel Perfecto, US alumnus of the Jef Denyn school, class of 2016

August 29: Toru Takao, in the spirit of 150 years of diplomatic relations between Belgium and Japan

September 5, 7pm: After the fairy tale of Peer Gynt

September 12, 8:30pm: Carillon concert with jazz ensemble

 

Check out the full program here.

 

Antwerp

The scene for Antwerp’s carillon concerts is its marvelous gothic Cathedral of Our Lady in the middle of the historic center. Though the city traditionally has its two official carillonneurs – who aren’t afraid to throw in some popular tracks by, for example, The Beatles from time to time – chime the bells on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at noon, the special Monday evening concerts during the warmest season will have guest musicians all playing with a specific theme in mind. Plop yourself down in the idyllic Vlaeckensgang, a tranquil alley beloved for listening to the sounds coming from the belfry, or reserve a spot on the Schoon Verdiep (or ‘Beautiful Floor’) of City Hall, a room of Renaissance splendor only open to the public on special occasions.

Notable upcoming concerts:

August 1, 8pm: Malgosia Fiebig, The four seasons in Antwerp

August 15, 8pm: Carl van Eyndhoven, Antwerp Nostalgia

August 29, 8pm: Koen van Assche (city carillonneur) and Nel Swerts on piano

 

Check out the full program here.

Bruges

Quaint Bruges with its overall medieval look might be the best place to let the carillon’s chiming carry you into worlds long gone. Listening inside the courtyard of its famous belfry, it’s quite easy to imagine time has stood still here since the Dark Ages, when the bells determined the rhythm of people’s lives from dawn till dusk. With concerts every Monday and Wednesday evening during the summer season, the carillon culture in Bruges is alive and kicking as official city carillonneurs from all over Belgium and the Netherlands come to play. The season’s finale promises to be especially breathtaking with the 14-man strong orchestra Flat Earth Society and Belgian virtuoso Mauro Pawlowski joining city carillonneur Frank Deleu in concert.

Notable upcoming concerts:

August 7, 11am: Frank Deleu for the MA Festival (string composition of the English Baroque)

August 24, 9pm: Rosemarie Seuntens (official carillonneur for six Dutch cities)

Thursday September 15: Flat Earth Society + Mauro Pawlowski & Frank Deleu

 

Check out the full program here.