At this moment the European Student Orchestra Festival (ESOF) and the European Network of University Orchestras (ENUO) are the only actors working on a European initiative that allows student orchestras to fulfil their international aspirations. Our experience has taught us that, as a student orchestra, organising concerts abroad is not obvious.
We realised that student orchestras remain an untapped potential in the European cultural landscape. There are dozens of student orchestras in university cities across Europe and many of them have never performed abroad, even if their wish to perform at another university, city or country is very strong. The European Student Orchestra Festival was formed to answer this need for cultural collaboration and exchange between European University Orchestras.
We are convinced that the organisation of a European festival and networking initiatives as described below, serves as an ideal platform to facilitate this exchange. This project wants to create a European space for student orchestras – a meeting place for equally minded European students, a place where people with a shared passion for music get together. Next to politics and economy, cultural diplomacy has an important role in transnational relations and our projects prove that culture is an important binding factor in cross-border relations.
Our project has proven to break borders in the past, and it will continue to do so in the future. We are pleased to have had the support of the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union between 2018 and 2021 – a clear token of appreciation of our achievements.
A first test case edition of the festival was organised in November 2012 by the Leuven University Symphony Orchestra. Three student orchestras coproduced during a weekend of concerts and exchange activities. The success of this relatively small event called for more ambitious plans, which resulted in the establishment of a dedicated non-profit organisation in 2014: ESOF vzw.
ESOF vzw launched a new festival that brought together 7 orchestras in Leuven in April 2015 and 9 orchestras in April 2017.
In 2018, the Orchestre Universitaire de Strasbourg hosted the first festival for symphony orchestras outside of Belgium. In 2019, the Tallin University Symphony Orchestra hosted the first choir festival.
2020 and 2021 marked a forced break in our activities as the COVID-19 pandemic affected international mobility and the cultural sector. A festival planned to take place in Amsterdam had to be cancelled twice and the project was abandoned as there was too much uncertainty to organize an event of this scale in 2021.
2022 marks a fresh start with a festival for symphony orchestras in Toulouse, hosted by the Orchestre Symphonique Étudiant de Toulouse.
Life is a box of festivals.
There is no I in TEAM, nor in ESOF, but there is an E major in both.
ESOF’s European management team is located in Belgium and consists of 3 members: Karen Raeymaekers, Matthew Coucke and Pieter Lembrechts. All of them have a strong background in music in general and in the world of university ensembles in particular. They set the strategic lines for the festivals and plan the future development of ESOF.
Depending on the location of the projects, ESOF sets up partnerships with other organizations. We have worked with the Orchestre Symphonique de l’Université de Strasbourg, the Tallinn University Symphony Orchestra, the Universiteit van Amsterdam Sweelinckorkest and the Orchestre Symphonique Etudiant de Toulouse.