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Experiencing the American Dream with the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra

Joost Maegerman, Intendant/CEO, Antwerp Symphony Orchestra

On May 3, 2019, AmCham Belgium’s Antwerp Chapter, in collaboration with the American Women’s Club of Antwerp and the American Club of Brussels, is organizing a special evening with the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra. Ahead of the event, we find out more about the inspiration behind the music and the 2018-19 theme, ‘The American Dream’.

This season, the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra focuses on the story of European composers, such as Mahler and Dvořák, who ventured to the New World to try their luck, while also putting American composers, such as Bernstein, Barber and Copland, in the spotlight. The orchestra wants to challenge its audience to reflect on the state of America, its dreams and its disillusions, by shedding a musical light on the period between 1890 and 1960, when the whole world looked up to the ideal of the American Dream.


The prospect of personal progression is woven into the fabric of the American state structure. Material prosperity, societal success and achievement of the eternally coveted happiness: that was the dream of every emigrant departing for America. Throughout the history of the US, Americans have carried on dreaming. Martin Luther King made explicit reference to the American Declaration of Independence in his famous speech, when he said that black Americans must ‘cash the check’ of the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness made two hundred years earlier.


The American Dream has now become an abstract idea, separate from the geographical reality. We may ask ourselves, what is the American Dream now? And what is its place in these times of renewed American isolationism? For many modern-day migrants from Africa or the Middle East, the dream is now to reach the United Kingdom. They are willing to do whatever it takes to get there, usually with just as little knowledge of their final destination as the fortune-seekers boarding ships heading out of Antwerp at the end of the 19th century. The port, our link to the rest of the world, is just one of the many things that connect Antwerp to the New World.


European musicians went chasing well-paid jobs in new concert halls as a result of the unprecedented wealth being accumulated in the US at the time. Others fled Europe to escape war and violence. Many of those arriving in America were exposed to local forms of music and incorporated those influences into their own works, which are now part of our musical canon. It was in this period that European music culture was handed down to a new generation of American conductors and composers. The concept of the American melting pot meant that the children of emigrants officially became Americans in only one generation. Through the creations of Leonard Bernstein, the American energy and drive would be translated into unforgettable music. This season, we want to take a closer look at these works and the influence of the United States on our music history. A musical program that encompasses the American Dream of a host of composers.

It is with great pleasure that the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra invites you to come and experience the wealth of music inspired by the American Dream on May 3, 2019.