1939: The origins

The origins of the Music Chapel rest on two strong personalities: Queen Elisabeth, a violinist keen to help young talents, and Eugène Ysaÿe, one of the greatest violinists and composers of his time. Both wanted to support emerging artists through a highly specialized school and an international competition. The competition has been renowned from the start and was to become the Queen Elisabeth Competition. The Music Chapel was inaugurated on 11 July 1939. It is famous for teaching exceptionally talented young musicians. At the time, the famous critic of the day, Emile Vuillermoz, described the Music Chapel as a sort of “modern Villa Medici.

After the Second World War, the Music Chapel resumed its role as an educational institution in 1956. Up to 2004, it welcomed a dozen young musicians and composers in residence, each supervised by a professor of their choice, for three-year cycles. Several generations of elite musicians were to stay in the Music Chapel, occupying an eminent place onstage or in higher education.

2004 : An overhaul of the contents

Since 2004, the Chapel has run a more open and more flexible program of excellence for dozens of young musicians from around the world. Pretty quickly, the need
to adapt the accommodation and work infrastructure became an urgent matter

On that year, the Music Chapel undertook a thorough overhaul of its training and professional insertion program. The Music Chapel’s artistic training now rests on three pillars

  •       Openness: anchored in the Belgian landscape but with an international vocation;
  •       Flexibility: adapting itself to each young artist’s profile by offering him/her a tailor-made program;
  •       Excellence: the Masters in Residence – José van Dam, Sophie Koch, Miguel da Silva, Augustin Dumay, Frank Braley, Avedis Kouyoumdjian, Gary Hoffman, Corina Belcea & Jean-Claude Vanden Eynden,– pass on their knowledge to the young talents.

2015:  A new laboratory

The inauguration in 2015 of a new wing – a success both architecturally and in terms of the surprising functional possibilities it offered  – has enabled the Chapel to work openly in its laboratory and to foster ongoing musical development.

This new arrangement, which made it possible to welcome more young artists in residence either for an extended period of time or on an intermittent basis,
resulted in an unprecedented development of the Chapel’s artistic project with between 60 and 80 artists in residence each year.

This new approach has led to the reinforcement of the following lines: the transmission of knowledge, the joint presence on stage of the young artists and the masters, the “community” projects, and lastly the development of new media (live-streaming and recordings).

2015–16: MuCH Music Season

After the inauguration of the new building in January 2015, the Music Chapel opened a new chapter in its history by launching a season of public concerts in 2015–16. This first season comprised 60 concerts and gave the impetus for all the other activities of the Chapel that followed.

2019–20: 80th Anniversary

In 2019–20 the Music Chapel has celebrated its 80th anniversary with lots of great projects.

Future Developments

1. The Chapel’s Pavilions

Extending the residence and the laboratory

Since its opening on 11 July 1939, the Chapel has defined itself as a
center of musical excellence whose particularity is the residency of artists on its site. Ten years later, on 27 January 2015, a new building, the de Launoit Wing, was inaugurated by Queen Paola.

The Music Chapel was moreover able to develop a program of public performances appreciated by an audience of tens of thousands of people each season and recognized by the different public authorities.

Almost five years after this historic step taken by the Chapel, the need for new extensions is once again on the agenda with regard to two distinct but complementary projects:

  • On its original site in Waterloo, a development of residency and rehearsal spaces has become a reality thanks to the success of the heightened artistic program since 2015, an increase in the number of projects requested by young artists, and finally the Chapel’s desire to be able to host orchestral ensembles and creative projects on its campus. This pavilion-type project was elaborated by Synergy (Sébastien Cruyt), one of the two offices that carried out the 2015 extension.
  • On the site of the Berlaymont plain, the municipality of Waterloo, with the advice of the Music Chapel and the support of InBW (the inter-municipal agency
    of the Province of Walloon Brabant) is initiating a major arts-infrastructure project, including a performing- arts venue with a capacity ranging from 600 to 1000 seats.

The development initiated by the Chapel of the pavilion-like residence and laboratory is planned within the coming two to three years.

The development of a new performance venue should take place over a longer period of time.

The desire of the Musical Chapel’s managers is to plan infrastructure developments that respect the identity of the project and its historic site and that also enable the institution to offer the best artistic program possible in order to be among the world’s leading centers of musical excellence.

2. Developing the campus

The Chapel Today: Iconic

As Queen Elisabeth had intended, “A showcase in the midst of nature” :
The Music Chapel is a center of musical excellence that supports musicians at the beginning of their careers. Its facilities house young artists in residence in order to provide them with high-level training and prepare them for the stage. These campus activities take place in parallel to a performance activity and the hosting of different audiences within the Chapel.

The 1939 building designed by Yvan Renchon has become an icon far beyond its architectural qualities. Its image refers to the institution’s prestige and to music
in particular. This historic building has been listed since 1994 and is a symbol of excellence.

The 2015 extension of the Chapel, the de Launoit Wing, provided a complementary tool and adapted the original building. The extension enabled the development of the musicians’ working conditions and at the same time the opening of this magical universe to the outside world through the organization of a concert season (MuCH) and a range of activities. The extension was designed as a backdrop for the 1939 building. The large glazed gallery plays with the reflection of nature and the staging of life on the inside. The design is sober, horizontal and strictly proportioned like an abstract
monolith. The reference that inspired us during its design was pure and enigmatic, like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The glass façade is a smooth double skin. It pays tribute to Eugène Ysaÿe by highlighting his pixelated score Harmonie du Soir. It transposes the rhythmic variations specific to the music and its writing into the transcription of the serigraphs and modules of the façade.

The Chapel Tomorrow

Looking toward the historical Chapel

Following on the success of the artistic program, it has developed since 2015 and its ever-growing reputation, the Music Chapel now sees the need to continue the development of its campus. On a neighboring plot of land of 1.3 hectares, it wishes to develop the accommodation and workspace infrastructure. It proposes an alternative in the typology in the form of three pavilions that can accommodate between 4 and 8 musicians in nature and a rehearsal room to accommodate different types of projects, up to a large symphony orchestra.

All these pavilions look toward the Chapel. The steps on the axis of the Chapel’s main corridor is the focal point of the composition. The pavilions will be located “in the midst of nature,” behind the park. They look toward the chapel but do not compete with the original design of the park. The pavilions serve as accommodation. There are four bedrooms, each of which can accommodate a parlor grand piano.

The program is structured exclusively around a large room. It is a rehearsal room that can accommodate a large symphony orchestra and where rehearsals for opera productions can be prepared.