Pieter Bergé about the special edition 2020

These days, we in Europe are as familiar with American pop music as we are unfamiliar with American 20th-century classical music. Sure, we know a few ‘classics’ like Rhapsody in Blue, West Side Story, and maybe a few Hollywood tunes. But our knowledge, and most of all our horizons, don’t extend much further. In fact, we only keep pulling out the old chestnuts, which effectively puts a concrete wall between us and that horizon. Festival 20·21 aims to do something about that this year, in the first place because great music should be played and heard, and especially if it’s great music that’s stil not well known!

With the American presidential elections approaching, it’s a good time to take a closer look at the United States. Sadly, in recent years the image in Europe of America has been badly tarnished by the exhausting egomania and harsh “great-again” rhetoric of the local ruler. But that mustn’t deter us from looking at, and even strengthening, our ties with the US through its culture. Only a broad-minded attitude can stand up to navel-gazing, only a generosity of spirit can stand up to empty words, the experience and awareness of how going deeper can connect us can stand up to the drive to polarise.

In this yearning for connection, however, we as Europeans have to say a humble mea culpa. We are all too readily Eurocentric when it comes to classical music. Even England is frequently dismissed by continentals as a ‘country without music’; how much worse must it be in America? But this preconception is as wrong as the Atlantic Ocean is deep. American classical music may have germinated later, but the fruit it’s produced since then is unsurpassed – and often it’s also sobering for anyone stuck in the mindset that musical evolution is by definition European. It is simply not true, and it’s important that we recognise that.

So more than ever, Festival 20·21 is becoming a voyage of discovery. America is the central theme, but so is the rich musical interaction between the US and Europe, in which – tragically enough – the two world wars feature predominantly. Nearly all the works in this year’s festival were written by Americans or by Europeans who had emigrated to the US (and often became US citizens). As such, the festival is certainly also a tribute to cross-fertilisation, in the silent hope that this idea of crossover can increasingly become a governing principle for this world.

 As far as our format goes, we’ve made a virtue of necessity. The permanent financial distress in which cultural organisations find themselves sometimes makes it difficult to play the intimacy card. But the new order teaches us that it’s possible, if we follow a few ground rules. And so, for five weeks we invite you to our ‘modern-day Schubertiades’ in a shared spirit of curiosity. All the concerts last one to one and a half hours, including a short introductory talk about the underlying idea of each programme. For the occasion, we have a fixed location: the atmospheric chapel of the Hollands College. When necessary, we move to the familiar spaces of the STUK and to the city’s theatre (Schouwburg). Nine different programmes (‘Stars’) framed by six events (‘Stripes’) are ready and waiting, to help you discover or rediscover one or more ‘transatlantic landscapes’.

One permanent guide to the subject is composer Charles Ives, or at least his spirit. Ives is not only considered the father of American music, he is actually its incarnation as well. The Ives quotes in this brochure may already be enough by themselves to get you fascinated in this freethinker of the highest magnitude. Whether in music, philosophy or politics, nothing was sacred to him. Not that he was a troublemaker or a violent anarchist – on the contrary. He only wanted not to be shackled in his thinking. This mind produced an improbably ‘contrary’ oeuvre that set the tone for a long line of American composers (some of them half or completely forgotten) in the 20th century. In the spirit of Ives, we now summon these artists to the stage: frank, free, and unprejudiced, and with our firm conviction that in doing so we can tear down a little bit of that concrete wall between us and the horizon.

“Too many readers go by the headlines, party man will muddle up the facts, so a good many citizens voted as grandpa always did, or thought a change back to the re’lar thing seemed natural enough. ‘It’s raining, let’s throw out the weatherman. Kick him out. Kick him out, Kick him!’ – ‘Oh Captain, my Captain! A heritage we’ve thrown away; But we’ll find it again, my Captain, Captain, oh my Captain.’" – Charles Ives (Nov. 2, 1920 or An Election)



Every year’s festival is the same, and yet it’s completely different each time. The Transit formula is familiar and reliable, its mix of established names and new discoveries a constant. But there’s always the ambition to give a boost to new works, talent, experiments and other wild ideas. Nothing can change that core mission of the festival, not even a rampaging virus.

Still, like the entire cultural field, Transit does adapt its format slightly to accommodate for the new situation. All concerts are now concentrated on two days and each program is performed twice, so that as many listeners as possible can enjoy the festival’s full offering. 

A prominent spot is reserved for Austria’s Bernhard Lang, who has so beautifully captured this paradoxical combination of repetition and change, in works that walk this delicate line between the stable and the unstable. Since balancing between the familiar and the new is also in a certain sense this festival’s ethos, we’re only too happy to be able to present Lang as one of this year’s featured composers. Two concerts are devoted to him: HYOID will perform a spectacular new work, and Daan Vandewalle will give a solo recital by of Lang’s piano music, including some new work. 

The other composer getting extra focus is Lang’s younger compatriot Eva Reiter, who will also be here, both on stage with Ictus as a charismatic interpreter of her own music and as a composer of a new work for guitar. 

In addition, there will as always be unusual combinations to explore, among them the microtonal Partch instruments played by Scordatura, Naomi Beeldens duelling live against a database of her own vocal sounds, and a Flemish-Icelandic duo who will tour the insides of the piano and harpsichord.

 Transit will always be a trusted arrangement, presenting the most inspiring new music. 

And thus never the same twice.


The Flanders Festival in Flemish Brabant is a subsidiary of vzw Samenwerkende vereniging Festival van Vlaanderen. It was founded in 1995 under the leadership of the new province of Flemish Brabant, the city of Leuven, the KU Leuven and several corporations.

Profile 1995 - 2005

In the first few years in Leuven, the programme consisted of polyphony, 20th-century and classical/romantic music. This choice was motivated by the intention to give superb music ‘on the margins’ a more prominent place. In 2000 a festival for contemporary music called TRANSIT was started. In Flemish Brabant the classical concerts had a mixed programme inspired by the Leuven programmes.

Profile change 2006

In 2006 some drastic artistic choices were made. The concerts in Leuven would focus on music of the 20th (NOVECENTO) and 21st century (TRANSIT).

New name 2015

In 2015, the Flanders Festival in Flemish Brabant took on a new name: ‘Festival 20·21’. The focus will remain on the inexhaustible wealth of music of the 20th (Novecento) and 21st centuries (Transit).

More than ever Festival 20·21

From 2018, the festival’s name is simply Festival 20·21 – a festival that puts the repertoire of the not-so-distant past at centre stage, while looking forward fearlessly to what the musical future has in store. Transit will continue to play its very special role as a premiere festival for new music.

Festival 20·21 is a member of: 

  • Festival van Vlaanderen
  • European Festivals Association (EFA)
  • Sounds Now. A network of 9 European music festivals and cultural/music centers that promote contemporary music, experimental music and sound art

Festival 20·21  with the support of: 

  • The Creative Europe programme of the European Union

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