Klarafestival 2024: Crossroads with Claron McFadden

Claron McFadden © Sergei Shef

Klarafestival heralds spring with twenty-two musical encounters, from March 8 to 24. Together with the American soprano and festival artist Claron McFadden, the festival has developed a promising program around the theme of Crossroads. The beautiful and the adventurous intersect in a colorful line-up with Budapest Festival Orchestra and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, international soloists such as baritone Matthias Goerne, pianists Alexandre Kantorow and Evgeny Kissin, star conductors Jaap Van Zweden and Iván Fischer, and surprising creations by Sonia Wieder-Atherton and Cécile McLorin Salvant. Klarafestival also resolutely opts for social engagement, with barrier-lowering projects such as Jouw Sleutel, Klarafestival in de Zorg and the apotheosis of the four-year program Musikaa in Molenbeek.

At the crossroads of genres, generations and disciplines
Festival artist Claron McFadden is not ready for her test piece. The American soprano is one of the world’s top and, based on her rich experience, helped shape Klarafestival 2024. “The three projects that McFadden presents during the festival nicely summarize her career full of cultural, artistic and intergenerational cross-pollination,” says Joost Fonteyne, intendant of Klarafestival. It produces wonderfully diverse and infectious projects.

McFadden’s world premiere of Chez Bricktop on March 9 at Bozar with pianist Claire Chevallier is an ode to Parisian nightclub owner Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith. She already embodied the crossroads theme 100 years ago, when she emigrated from the US to Europe (just like McFadden) and transformed her club Chez Bricktop into a safe haven for artists and musicians, regardless of their color or background. The surprising performance in the form of a live radio broadcast alternates music by Scott Joplin, Cole Porter, Erik Satie and Maurice Ravel with her special story.

On March 12 in Flagey, McFadden will also pay tribute to the American composer David Lang. Together with the French percussion ensemble TaCTuS and the young singers Maris Pajuste and Maria Eichler, she shows the versatility of Lang’s oeuvre. An ideal concert to discover David Lang’s oeuvre.


The interaction between different generations is high on the agenda, because together with composer Gavin Bryars, McFadden presents the cult work Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, a composition from the 1970s with a recording of a homeless man singing as a leitmotif. On Saturday, March 9, the work will be central to a happening in Bozar with conservatory students from Ghent and Brussels. “The students curate a series of live playlists that introduce the audience to the ritual of Jesus’ Blood,” McFadden explains. “That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with this piece, because the performance is a collective ritual.” This unifying aspect is reinforced by the collaboration with Les Choux de Bruxelles, a choir of people with experience of poverty.

The commitment of conductor Iván Fischer also fits in seamlessly with the festival theme. With his Budapest Festival Orchestra, one of the world’s top ten orchestras, he gives a special contemporary meaning to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion on March 21 in Bozar. For Compassion, Fischer invites non-Western musicians who, based on their traditions, add their own dimension to the famous Passion story: an exercise in compassion, from the Baroque to today.


At the crossroads of disciplines, cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton crosses the border into the film genre in D’Est en Musique on March 14 in Bozar. Starting from Chantal Akerman’s D’Est, in which the filmmaker filmed life in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Wall, Wieder-Atherton together with Akerman created a poetic cinema concert with music by Russian and Eastern European composers such as Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Schnittke.

The classics
The festival opens with the renowned Hong Kong Philharmonic and the young piano prodigy Alexandre Kantorow led by Jaap Van Zweden. On March 8 they unite musical generations, from Brahms to Rachmaninov to the young composer Daniel Ting-cheung Lo. On March 10, pianist Evgeny Kissin and baritone Matthias Goerne immerse Bozar in the romantic song repertoire of Schumann and Brahms. The closing event is reserved for pianist Martin Helmchen and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin led by rising star Tarmo Peltokoski. The 23-year-old Finnish conductor will guide the audience in Bozar on March 24 through the work of two compatriots, Jean Sibelius and Kaija Saariaho.

On Wednesday March 13, string quartets will take center stage in Flagey: the emerging Leonkoro Quartet explores emotional boundaries with Janáček’s Kreutzer Sonata and Schumann’s String Quartet No. 3. Finally, the renowned Minguet Quartett celebrates the 100th birthday of the Italian avant-garde composer Luigi Nono with, in addition to Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima, compositions by Verdi, Beethoven and Ockeghem that inspired him.

About the wall

Composer, pianist, singer, jazz musician, fashion designer… Cécile McLorin Salvant is all of these things (at the same time), and her dark parable Ogresse proves this. Love and death are explored imaginatively here, in a musical world that is somewhere between baroque, Broadway and jazz. With a thirteen-piece ensemble, McLorin Salvant presents an evening not to be missed on March 17 in Bozar. Belgian jazz pride Bram De Looze will present his fourth solo album Spotting Gateways on March 22 in Flagey, in which improvisation and composition alternate.

Accordionist Philippe Thuriot will let Domenico Scarlatti’s timeless and ingenious keyboard works Essercizi shine per gravicembalo in the equally timeless Protestant Chapel on March 19.

Tenor Tore Tom Denys and his Dionysos Now! have been connecting Renaissance polyphony with today’s audience since 2020. On March 23 they combine the St. John Passion by 16th century star composer Adriaan Willaert with Hungarian Rock and Continuum by Gÿorgy Ligeti in the Sint-Jacob-op-Koudenberg Church. The ensemble will be joined by harpsichordist Catalina Vicens.

The performance La Floresta by sound artist Hans Beckers deserves special mention. Sound objects with flowers, natural stone, sand and other natural objects trouvés form a musical landscape in which the visitor can immerse themselves in an immersive listening experience.

“La Floresta is a great example of how we like to surprise our audience,” concludes Joost Fonteyne. “With the festival as a melting pot of different influences, we take you on a journey of discovery in a polyphonic and richly varied world.”