The Hulencourt Art Project and the Hulencourt Soloists Chamber Orchestra.


Anarchic British violinist Nigel Kennedy has been known to make less than flattering remarks about the usefulness of orchestral conductors.

There’s a chance he might find it harder to criticise Israel’s Guy Braunstein, who is conductor and performer all in one, holding his violin in one hand and directing the orchestra with his other.

Now aged 42, Braunstein in 2000 became the youngest ever first violinist in the Berlin Philharmonic, where he still performs. He also brings his musical energy to the Hulencourt Soloists Chamber Orchestra, of which he became principal conductor in July this year. Together, they will play their way around the Brussels area between now and next June in a festival named the Hulencourt Art Project.

The season began at the start of this month in Flagey studio 4, the acoustically revered heart of the Flagey cultural complex.

Full of warm wood and sweeping curves, the boat-like, art deco Flagey building combined architectural innovation with strict acoustic and technical requirements, as designed by Belgian architect Joseph Diongre. He won the commission through a competition in 1933.

Formerly home to Belgian television and radio, it was renovated following a rescue plan agreed in 1997 and is now a mecca for the capital’s lovers of cinema, art and all kinds of music.

Outside in the bustling place Flagey, students from the nearby university hang out on terraces, trams rattle past, Bruxellois snap up fruit and vegetables from an open-air market and geese gather on the Flagey ponds.

Within the calm of Studio 4, Braunstein launched the season with a programme of German romantic music – Beethoven, Bruch and Mendelssohn.

However deftly performed the Bruch (Romanze for Viola and Orchestra) and Mendelssohn’s Scottish, their main purpose seemed to be to highlight by contrast Beethoven’s depth and intensity.

Braunstein and his orchestra delivered every ounce of tense, complex emotion and the occasional humour of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major.

For the rest of the season – Braunstein leads his orchestra of young solosists, aged between 25 and 36, at venues including Brussels’ Royal Conservatory of music, the plush Hotel Amigo in central Brussels, and Hulencourt Golf Club, where the orchestra is based.

If a golf club seems incongruous, the Hulencourt musicians point out that the site, situated a few miles to the south of Brussels, has had many uses. In the 11th-century it was the property of the wife of the Count of Boulogne who fought alongside William of Normandy as he conquered England in 1066.

Now the conquests are only emotional and the soloists, in keeping with Belgium’s European vocation, are international prize-winners from music schools across Europe.

The programmes vary from Bach and Couperin played on an 18th-century harpsichord made by the celebrated Antwerp harpsichord-maker Johannes Daniel Dulcken, to Astor Piazzolla as a soulful tango conclusion to the season in June next year.

Barbara Lewis © 2013.