Belgian conductor Michel Tilkin enjoys an extremely busy and successful career on the podium internationally, having developed strong artistic relationships with numerous eminent ensembles since the start of the new millennium. His interpretations are known for their intensity of expression and masterly shaping of large symphonic structure. In response to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5: “…the enlarged orchestra was clearly galvanized by Tilkin’s passionate and highly committed temperament, resulting in many powerfully sustained build-ups and climaxes of often awe-inspiring, searing excitement...”
(James Keller, Bangkok Post, 2017)
In March 2018 he became the new Music Director of the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, Thailand’s longest running professional classical ensemble. From 2010 he visited many times as guest conductor, his charismatic presence on the podium and positive relationship with the musicians leading to this exciting new appointment. His initial successes there, with profound performances of Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, resulted in the invitation to conduct the RBSO’s ‘30th Anniversary Celebration Concert’ in 2013. His highly emotional, stunning performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 on that special occasion is still remembered well by the musical community, and in 2016 he appeared with the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra at Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall as part of the prestigious ‘Asia Orchestra Week.’
He has appeared with every significant orchestra in his home country – Belgian National Orchestra; Antwerp Symphony Orchestra; Royal Flemish Philharmonic Orchestra; New Flemish Symphony Orchestra; Flanders Symphony Orchestra; Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège; and Brussels Philharmonic. He has also conducted the renowned Royal Symphonic Band of the Belgian Guides - an historic regiment regarded as one of the world’s very finest wind orchestras, by amongst others Berlioz and Stravinsky. In neighbouring Holland Tilkin has conducted Het Limburgs Symfonie Orkest; Het Gelders Orkest; and Philharmonie Zuidnederland.
From 2013-2017 he held the position of Chief Conductor of Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha – just one of many German orchestras he has intimate working connections with, including also Nürnberger Philharmoniker; Philharmonie Südwestfalen; Südwestrundfunk Symphonieorkester; Nürnberger Symphoniker; Philharmonisches Orchester Vorpommern; Rheinische Philharmonie; and Westfälisches Sinfonieorchester.
Tilkin began his professional musical life as Principal Trombonist with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, also appearing regularly as a chamber musician and solo artist with the Hague Philharmonic Orchestra and Dutch Radio Symphony Orchestra, both on stage and broadcasting on television stations internationally. Inspired by the great music that he was making in Rotterdam, particularly with the Russian maestro Valery Gergiev, in 1998 Tilkin decided to focus all of his energy full-time into the field of conducting, gaining experience initially with the Brussels Youth Orchestra. From the outset, the concentrated passion and excitement which he infuses into all of his conducting can be traced back to the powerful influence of Gergiev.
An opportunity soon arose with the renowned Jeunesses Musicales World Youth Orchestra, where he served as Assistant Conductor to several A-list legends such as Kurt Masur, Sir Neville Mariner, and Zubin Mehta - including at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. His conducting ability was also instantly recognised by influential figures such as Yuri Termirkanov and Jeffrey Tate, and he was duly invited to be Principal Conductor of the JMWYO for a European tour of the opera Brundibar by Hans Krasa, and also for a historically significant German tour which commemorated the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. With this great international youth orchestra Tilkin also gained the distinction of conducting the very first concert of the new millennium in Berlin’s Konzerthaus, starting at precisely midnight as the new dawn began.
A conductor of admirable versatility, in the opera house Tilkin has also conducted many productions for Vlaamse Opera (Flemish Opera), including the world première of Achilleus by Wim Hendrickx, De Grote Verzoeking van de Heilige St. Antonius by Louis De Meester, and Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) by Franz Léhar. From the recording studio with the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, for Universal Records, he released the première CD of the contemporary opera Erotokritos and Areti by the Greek composer Yannis Markopoulos – a unique synthesis incorporating ethnic instruments and voices. With the same orchestra he has also recorded Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony for the Klara label, and for Channel Classics he has recorded Dvořák’s Piano Concerto in its original version, with the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra and Paolo Giacometti as soloist. In addition, Tilkin has conducted many soundtracks for television documentaries and films.
A very sensitive accompanist in concerto repertoire, other soloists who he enjoys fruitful artistic partnerships with include Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, Uzbekistani pianist Mikhail Rudy (with whom he has collaborated closely on the Rachmaninov concertos), Brazilian pianist Christina Ortiz, and the genius German cellist Wolfgang Schmidt.
Tilkin’s international reputation is further reflected by countries farther afield where he has been invited to conduct. He has appeared in Norway with Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra and in Siberia with Novosibirsk Symphony Orchestra. Following this success he took the Novosibirsk Chamber Orchestra – an ensemble of prodigious technical stature – on a tour of Belgium.