BENJAMIN HAEMHOUTS Conductor, composer
''His knowledge of the repertory - old and new - results in inventive programming and mind-opening combinations, while always keeping the music alive."
- Susanna Mälkki, Chief Conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic
''A musical director with an amazing mixture of business acumen and social charm.''
- Jonathan Nott, Chief Conductor of the Suisse Romande Orchestra
Artistic Director, Chief Conductor - The Chamber Orchestra of Belgium
Artistic Director - Antwerp Spring Festival
Musical Director - Lost and Found
If Benjamin Haemhouts was a word, it would be versatility. Benjamin is well known for his innovative programming and projects combining contemporary music with classics, performing in unconventional venues and public spaces as well as his work with influential choreographers. Haemhouts’ interpretations are characterised by conspicuous contrasts, accurate articulation and a dazzling, dynamic manner of making music.
As Artistic Director of CASCO Phil - the Chamber Orchestra of Belgium, Haemhouts has been pushing limits and boundaries of a classical orchestra's fixed form since 2008. As said by himself: “First comes the artistic idea, only then do we fill in the form” (Antenno). His creativity led him to the Antwerp Spring Festival where since 2019 he invites border breaking artists from various genres to show the many different faces of the harbour city of Antwerp. The innovative opera project Lost and Found is another of his creative successes with co-producers such as the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Opera Ballet Flanders, O. Festival Rotterdam, Europalia and the Muziektheater Transparant. Currently he is also developing a multidisciplinary concept “24/7” which is an ecological and technological opera project based on a French cult film for a large symphony of car horns.
As in many of Haemhouts’ ideas, public space becomes the scene and has been described by him as follows: “To have a special experience, you don't have to listen to an orchestra of sixty people in a closed room with a thousand people. Innovation is perhaps a combination of things you are forced to do and the way you deal with it yourself” (Antenno).
In recent seasons, Haemhouts has guest conducted the Belgian National Orchestra (Belgium), the Argovia Philharmonic (Switzerland), Brussels Philharmonic (Belgium), Bamberger Symphoniker (Germany), Guanajuato Symphony Orchestra and the Orquesta de Cámara de Bellas Artes (Mexico). Upcoming are his debuts with the Malta Symphonic Orchestra, Vilnius Chamber Orchestra, the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen (Belgium) and the Philharmonie Zuidnederland (Netherlands), among others.
Benjamin Haemhouts began his professional career as a trombonist with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra. Collaborating with conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev, Bernard Haitink, Herbert Blomstedt, Gustavo Dudamel, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Jonathan Nott and Esa-Pekka Salonen made lasting impressions upon him. During this time, he also conducted various youth orchestras such as the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, the Antwerp Conservatory’s Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre des Jeunesses Musicales as well as working as assistant conductor to his teacher, Alexander Polyanichko.
Furthermore, the forward looking mindset of Haemhouts, recognizing and creating new opportunities as the chief conductor of CASCO Phil, has made him a pioneer of cultural entrepreneurship and alternative funding in Belgium and led him to be a keynote speaker at a wide variety of corporate events and conferences for big corporations like Adecco and the Belgian Post.
"Inspiring musician, visually exciting conductor."
Jonathan Nott, Chief Conductor of the Suisse Romande Orchestra
Contemporary dance has also played a prominent role in Benjamin Haemhouts work with CASCO Phil, presenting ground-breaking performances and projects, as for example, choreographies by Martha Graham, Maurice Béjart and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui were co-produced with the Opera Ballet Vlaanderen.
The entrepreneurial mindset of Haemhouts, recognizing and creating new opportunities, has led CASCO Phil to a wide range of creative projects such as “Lost and found”, “Golf goes Classic”, “Symphonic Leadership” or “Cooking with Mozart”. As said by Haemhouts: “Innovation is perhaps a combination of things you are forced to do and the way you deal with it yourself. The most important condition for innovation is not necessarily wanting to innovate” (Antenno).
Following these innovative projects CASCO Phil with Haemhouts has released “Once in a Weill”, a cabaret related CD that explores the power of Kurt Weill´s vital musical heritage with mezzo-soprano Helene Bracke.
Unexpected, adventurous, colourful and utterly flexible! This is how CASCO Phil presents itself. Adjectives which could also describe Benjamin Haemhouts, who has been the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor since its creation in 2008.
The Belgian Chamber Philharmonic or CASCO Phil is a classical orchestra in a classical guise providing tailor-made solutions to every new challenge they set for themselves.
A major part of CASCO Phil’s work focuses on social commitment and children, like for example with the project “A Little Beethoven”. Their approach, that all levels of the population must have access to music and that an orchestra must participate in society, has gained a huge level of attraction in Belgium and increasingly abroad, being described as a big house with many rooms, because it houses a “House for Social Engagement”, a “House for young composers” and a “House for Children” (Muziek en Woord).
“A new chamber orchestra is taking music to the people.”
Marie Dumont, Flanders Today
Lost and Found
"Each interpretation made an impact."
Erica Jeal, The Guardian
This innovative opera project of Haemhouts’ is staged in train stations and based on passenger inputs. Brand-new opera commissions are sung by rising stars of the opera world, accompanied by musicians from renowned partnering ensembles.
“Lost and Found” is a co-production between the Royal Opera (Covent Garden), Opera Ballet Flanders, O. Festival Rotterdam, Europalia Arts Festival, Muziektheater Transparant and Casco Phil, and has been presented in London, Antwerp, Brussels and Rotterdam. In the upcoming seasons agreements have been made with the Royal Danish Opera, among others.
“Lost and Found” aims to establish a dialogue between the train stations and the variety of local stories, memories and observations around the theme of railway travel of the people living there - from intimately personal accounts to public matters.
The audience is able to not only witness the opera's creation, but also participate in it. A local team of artists (librettists, composers, dramaturges) collect local stories from bypassers and translate them into operas.
The artists work together in a creative space - a transparent cube installed inside the train station. Each day a performance, based on the interactions of that day, is put on.
The final composition brings together these daily micro operas and takes the form of an extended performance in which musicians and singers share the result through visual and kinetic experiences.