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You are here : Home > News > Speeches > June 2005 > Speech by François Biltgen, Minister for Culture, Higher Education and Research on the occasion of the inauguration of the Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte Concert Hall, Luxembourg, 26 June 2005
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Speech by François Biltgen, Minister for Culture, Higher Education and Research on the occasion of the inauguration of the Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte Concert Hall, Luxembourg, 26 June 2005

Date of Speech : 26-06-2005

Place : Luxembourg

Speaker : François Biltgen, Minister for Culture, Higher Education and Research

Policy area : Education, Youth and Culture Education, Youth and Culture

Event : Informal Meeting of Ministers for Culture

Your Royal Highnesses,


Herr Bundespräsident,

Senhor Presidente,

Mr President of the Chamber of Deputies,

Dear colleagues from the Council of Ministers of Culture of the European Union,

Dear colleagues from the Government,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends, dear Guests of Honour,

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has written the following lines in 1943, in a letter that would become famous: "(...), il n'y a qu'un problème, un seul, de par le monde. Rendre aux hommes une signification spirituelle. Des inquiétudes spirituelles. Faire pleuvoir sur eux quelque chose qui ressemble à un chant grégorien. (...) On ne peut plus vivre de frigidaires, de politique, de belote et de mots croisés, voyez-vous! On ne peut plus. On ne peut plus vivre sans poésie, couleur ni amour."1 

Still today, these sentences sound entirely true: they are the exact description of what a cultural policy should be that takes into account the profound interest of the men and women of this world. As Minister for Culture, I am extremely pleased to be able to welcome you tonight in the name of the Government of the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Presidency of the European Union, and also in particular in the name of Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, Minister of Civil Engineering Claude Wiseler and Secretary of State for Culture, Higher Education and Research Octavie Modert, in this new architectural structure full of poetry, which will, in a few minutes’ time, be full of harmony as well. I am convinced that the Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte Concert Hall will be the crown jewel in the jewelry box that the Place de l’Europe is going to be.

Only a few metres from here, as you have seen from the entry hall of the Philharmonic Hall tonight, stands the future Museum of Modern Art Grand-Duc Jean, conceived by the architect I.M. Pei, which will open its doors to the public in autumn 2006 and will bear the name of H.R.H. Grand-Duke Jean.


You give us the honour of being here with us tonight for the inauguration of the Concert Hall which bears the name of your dear wife, Grand-Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte. I know that your wife, who loved art in all of its forms and who was a great collector of contemporary art, supported the construction of the Museum of Modern Art and of the Philharmonie wholeheartedly. We are pleased that H.R.H. the Grand-Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte accepted to lend her name to this beautiful Concert Hall.

Your Royal Highnesses,

To You who have taken over, we would like to say that we are pleased and proud of Your presence amongst us here tonight: Your interest and passion for everything that has to do with the realm of culture is very comforting for us. It is the proof that our leaders, who are committed in all areas of social life and who attach particular importance to everything that touches the heart of our Luxembourgish and non-Luxembourgish co-citizens, appreciate the cultural cause to its rightful extent. Monseigneur, Madame, we thank you for this.

Dës zwee nei  Lëtzebuerger Kulturgebaier gehéieren zu deene schéinsten Haiser, déi et op der Welt gëtt: mir sinn houfrech, datt se den Numm droën vun eisem fréiere Grand-Duc Jean an vun eiser fréierer Grossherzogin Joséphine-Charlotte: ech mengen, Messeigneurs, Madame, doranner en Ausdrock ze gesinn vun deem déiwe Respekt a vun der ni gebrachener Léiwt vun de Lëtzebuerger fir hir Dynastie.2  

The idea to construct a large Concert Hall, which was often brought forward in the past, took shape only in 1995, when Luxembourg was "European Capital of Culture" for the first time: at the pinnacle of the cultural year when its success had transcended all expectations, the Luxembourgers – often shy and ignorant of their own capabilities – realised that they had to give themselves the capacities necessary to accomplish their ambitions. The national collective has consented to considerable efforts to equip our country with first-rate cultural infrastructures, which are adapted to the requirements of the modern world. The maxim of the succeeding governments was to give a new life to historical buildings while at the same time having the courage to take on new architectural challenges. Investing in cultural infrastructure is not only part of what is called, in economic terms, "Standortpolitik". It is a societal choice!

If these cultural infrastructures alter the external aspect of a city or the brand image of a country for the better, they also generate jobs, directly and indirectly. But there is more: they also profoundly transform daily life and the social fabric of a country and thus help it to keep courage and faith in the future.

The Grande-Duchesse Joséphine-Charlotte Concert Hall is one of these realisations. I could also cite the Cultural Meeting Centre, Abbey of Neumünster, where we shall meet tomorrow with the Ministers for Culture of the European Union, who are our guests of honour tonight. Further, there is the Museum of the Fortress, a centre for interpreting our national identity, or identities; the Centre de Musique Amplifiée (Rockhal), the National Centre for Literature, the Casino, Forum for Contemporary Art, the National Audiovisual Centre, the new National Archives, the future National and University Library… and many more.

In the construction of the new Philharmonie, we were guided by three principles:

  • Firstly, to catch up with a certain lateness, which penalises the development and professionalisation of cultural activities on the musical level. The Philharmonie will thus become the seat of the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, which under the leadership of the late David Shallon, and currently Bramwell Tovey, has become an orchestra of worldwide renown, being a true cultural ambassador for Luxembourg.
  • Secondly, to contribute to the creation of a contemporary architectural heritage worthy of a country that wishes to hold its own and fulfil its role at the heart of the Greater Region and of Europe. I would like to pay homage to Christian de Portzamparc who has, as he puts it himself, endeavoured to create an important urban guideline. The Philharmonie, he says: "will have to have its own light. At night, light will filter out to the outside. It will inverse to play of daylight, which ‘strikes’ the cliff from the outside and ‘caresses’ it from above. In darkness, the Philharmonie should be like a great big public light."
  • Thirdly, to put the instruments of an ambitious cultural policy, a pillar of our social cohesion, at the disposal of cultural creators and actors, but also of the public, of all publics. The Philharmonie’s Concert Hall will offer excellent musical acoustic qualityand I would like to thank the acoustician Albert Xu for his "shoe-box". It will be the Hall of all Luxembourgers, the Hall of all those who live and work in Luxembourg, of all those who come to Luxembourg and discover that Luxembourg not only has a history, it has a future. My homage also goes out to Damien Wigny and his board of governors, and especially to Director Matthias Naske and his team, for already offering a comprehensive overture programme, encompassing all sorts of music and allowing for the participation of all categories of musical actors.

For music is part of the Luxembourgish identity. I am saying this a few days after our national Holiday, the public celebration of the birthday of our Sovereign. In the 19th Century, when the existence of our country was constantly threatened following the ambitions of the great powers, the Luxembourgers, who hesitated about their identity, have forged it themselves. They have notably composed it through music. After a musical competition organised by the government in 1852, brass bands, ensembles and choirs have begun to appear and have taught music to the Luxembourgers and have reinforced their social links. Today, this world is even richer, since the inhabitants of our country are active in all musical domains. The new Philharmonie will provide them with a stage, a stage which will also allow all publics to discover musicians and music from all over the world.

What a daring wager this Philharmonie has been! Creating this hall has required a lot of courage, especially political courage. I would therefore like to pay homage, first and foremost, to a great lady of culture, Madame Erna Hennicot-Schoepges, who is here among us tonight. As Minister in charge of Culture and Civil Engineering until 2004, and especially for the hall which we are inaugurating tonight, she has proven to be a visionary blessed with a great deal of pragmatism! My thanks also go out to the former Minister for Civil Engineering, Robert Goebbels who organised the international competition and  all the collaborators and decision-makers in the Ministry of Civil Engineering and the Ministry of Culture, to the women and men of art, in all areas of construction and finalisation, who have managed to get the better of storms and floods in order to finish this building in good time. Finally, I would like to thank the Chamber of Deputies for having given it the required funds.

Your Royal Highnesses,


Herr Bundespräsident,

Senhor Presidente,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear Friends, dear Guests of Honour,

Our country, like so many others, has known peace and prosperity since the Liberation 60 years ago, thanks to the European Project.

Besides peace and prosperity, Europe needs a third pillar, namely culture. It allows us to help finding a meaning in life, it can offer answers to the needs of a spiritual homeland and of the quest for identity. The practice of culture is a vehicle for meaning, for multiple significances and guarantor of tolerance in a world threatened by all sorts of fanaticism. It is also increasingly a factor for social cohesion in a Europe which is still building its identity, which is not yet acquired.

In 2007, Luxembourg, both as city and country, will have the honour for the second time to be the "European Cultural Capital". In a European spirit, our Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed to extend this project to the Greater region, to the French-speaking and German-speaking communities of Belgium, to the Sarre, Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany, and Lorraine in France. We have a common past, sometimes divergent, but we have a common destiny! Culture has united us; it can therefore guide us anew.

Pre-empting a decision taken by the EU under the Luxembourg Presidency, we have decided, since 2003, to associate the city of Sibiu in Romania, formerly known as Hermannstadt, to this great adventure of the European Capital of Culture. In the 13th Century, this city in Transylvania has welcomed immigrants from our Greater Region, who managed to find something there that was scarce over here at this time: work and civil rights! Some of their descendants still speak a language which largely resembles our mother tongue, Lëtzebuergësch, which developed from Frankish, the language of Charlemagne. Wa mer roueg riädden, da verstoe mer iis!

If the then Minister for Culture, Mrs. Erna Hennicot-Schoepges, had asked the Polish composer to compose a piece for the inauguration of this hall, it is because the life and work of this great composer, who honours us with his presence tonight, are the best witness of this European past, scarred by war and oppression, but also of this unshakable faith in life.

Christian de Portzamparc and Krzysztof Penderecki – beyond having first names that resemble each other and call out to each other – realise each in his own way, the dream of a forest that can withstand time. The 823 columns of Christian de Portzamparc's Philharmonie remind us of the 1000 trees that Krzysztof Penderecki has planted with his own hands.

What better examples could there be for the existence of common roots in our enlarged Europe! Let us not cut off these roots! Let us allow the cultural tree to continue growing, to multiply its branches and to reflect thus the European motto of unity in diversity. My dear colleagues from the Council of Ministers of Culture of the European Union, we shall meet. Let us prove to our fellow citizens that culture is a project for the future of Europe, for Europe!

The Luxembourg Presidency is nearing its end. It has known a large number of successes and some failures. Let us savour the successes! Let us overcome the failures! They say that Europe is in crisis. Europe has always been in crisis. Europe has always been able to overcome its crises. Europe needs an identity to federate our fellow citizens. Europe must be more than just a free trade area. President Delors has said that you cannot fall in love with a single market. And it's true. In order for us to become enthusiastic about Europe, we need other projects. Projects of a political Europe speaking with a single voice for peace in the world, a Europe founded on sustainable growth and job creation at the service of social cohesion and of everyone, a Europe with a rich and diversified cultural identity. On the 10th July, the Luxembourgers will be called upon to express themselves on our European project by referendum. We can give back hope to Europe.

One of the guiding principles of the Culture Programme of the Presidency was to "learn more languages in order to speak a common language". Yes, Europe needs this common language. But it already has a common language, one that all our citizens speak and that they learn from the youngest age: music.

In a text that become famous after the First World War, Paul Valéry wrote: "Nous autres civilisations, nous savons maintenant que nous sommes mortelles." 3  Confronted to this statement, Krzysztof Penderecki says: "Ich habe beschlossen mit der Natur ein Bündnis der Glücklichkeit zu schliessen, zum Trotz den sterbenden Wäldern, zum Trotz der menschlichen Kondition, zum Trotz der Einsamkeit und der Vergänglichkeit." 4

Music, the universal language, will tonight be wedded to the word: the 8th Symphony of Krzysztof Penderecki will now have its say!

Thank you for your attention.

1 “(…) there is only one problem, a single one, in the world. To give back to humanity a spiritual significance. Spiritual concerns. To let rain on them something that resembles Gregorian chanting. (…)You cannot go on living on fridges, politics, card games and crosswords! You cannot. You cannot go on living without poetry, colour or love.�? From an unsent letter, destined to one General X. The intended recipient appears to be General Béthouart. The letter was written in La Marsa, near Tunis, in July 1943, published in Le Figaro littéraire, no 103, 10 April 1948. Later republished in Un sens à la vie, Gallimard, 1956.

2 Translation: These two new Luxembourgish cultural buildings are among the most beautiful in the world: we are proud that they bear the name of our former Grand-Duke Jean and our former Grand-Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte: Messeigneurs, Madame, I believe this is proof of the deep respect and the unbroken love of the Luxembourgers for their Dynasty.

3 "We, the civilisations, we know now that we are mortal." Variété – La Crise de l'Esprit, Éditions Gallimard, 1924-1944

4 "I have decided to conclude a pact of happiness with nature, in spite of the dying forests, in spite of the human condition, in spite of solitude and precariousness."

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