Brussels Philharmonic | What is a hero?

What defines a hero?

going in-depth

What defines a hero? Who are they or how do you become one? Is a hero by definition heroic? Or do they have the same flaws as everyone, do they make the same human mistakes? Can one call themselves a hero?

Together with a multidisciplinary team, the Brussels Philharmonic explores the concept of heroism from various angles in relation to the concert Ein Heldenleben. The heroes depicted in Strauss’ music are surely not anymore the heroes we admire today - or are they?

[read also: programme notes]
[read also: O Superman]
[read also: Soundscapes]
[read also: Photographic Hero]
[all programme notes]


30.09.2023 FLAGEY

Strauss: Ein Heldenleben · 30.09.2023 · Flagey

Heroes take many forms – in real life as well as in art. Richard Strauss brought a succession of heroes to the fore in his symphonic poems, two of whom come to life in this programme – thanks to Strauss’ impressive orchestration – as if in a film.

with KAZUSHI ONO conductor

Discover more

Before the concert

(19:00 > 19:30) Philosopher Laurent De Sutter presents a lecture in Studio 3 that challenges our contemporary view of the concepts 'hero' and 'antihero’.

(19:00 > 20:00) Jean-Luc Plouvier, musician and artistic coordinator of Ictus, has created a unique cover of Laurie Anderson's worldwide hit O Superman, which he will perform at different time slots in Studio 2 alongside singers Kelly Poukens and María Gil Muñoz. Who is the hero in this case? O Superman, O Judge, O Mom and Dad?


Strauss' Ein Heldenleben may sound heroic, but is it really all about heroism? Strauss presents a hero that is far from superficial: they are self-aware and complex, human and down-to-earth. This work may seem autobiographical at first glance, leading to accusations of arrogance, but is this really the case? Strauss himself said: "I am not a hero. I do not have the strength for it. I am not suited for the fight. I prefer to stay in the background, in a quiet place.”

With this thought in mind, stage director Fanny Gilbert-Collet strings together Strauss' three works (Don Juan, Serenade, and Ein Heldenleben) into “an inner monologue of the hero.” Visually, with adapted lighting, but also auditorily: together with sound designer Stef Van Alsenoy, she creates soundscapes based on poetry and haikus. Before and after the rich music by Strauss, they provide moments of stillness and reflection, inviting the audience to contemplate their personal interpretation of the word 'hero.'

After the concert

(21:40) Music director Kazushi Ono and music journalist Jasper Croonen engage in a conversation with each other and the audience at our BruPhil Café: which heroes bring Strauss' music to life for each of us today?

Photographer Lars Bauwens will capture the entire evening, his photographic report will be available in a digital exhibition shortly after. He made the deliberate choice to return to analog photography, embracing the serendipity in capturing the perfect moment. Does that make him a modern-day hero?

Brussels Philharmonic Kazushi Ono DREAMS 2023 c Wouter Van Vaerenbergh 81

Heldenleben: soundscapes

In the concert Ein Heldenleben poetic soundscapes designed by Stef Van Alsenoy and Fanny Gilbert-Collet resonate between the three works of Richard Strauss. Together with a veil of misty light, they create a unique sonic world that adds new depth to the concept of a 'hero.'

These soundscapes draw inspiration from Pablo Neruda's poem Muchos Somos. The proximity shared by the spoken voice with the audience provides an opportunity to delve deeper into the subconscious. Furthermore, the haikus of the Japanese poet Natsume Soseki bring to life the four stages of human existence, like subtle brushstrokes on the canvas of the evening.

Oh Super Man

O Superman

Since 2021, Brussels Philharmonic has been collaborating on and off the stage with contemporary music ensemble Ictus. For Ein Heldenleben, Jean-Luc Plouvier from Ictus provides the dramaturgical context. Especially for this concert, which focuses on Richard Strauss and the theme of (anti)heroes, he created a unique cover of Laurie Anderson's worldwide hit, O Superman.

Strauss Richard Transparent Treatment PINK GREEN

programme notes

‘I am not a hero. I don’t have the strength for it. I’m not fit for the battle. I prefer to stay in the background, in a quiet place.’ - Richard Strauss