Koen Kessels
Photo: Filip van Roe

Koen Kessels appointed as new musical director of Dutch National Ballet and artistic director/principal conductor of Dutch Ballet Orchestra

14 December 2023

Belgian conductor Koen Kessels (1961) has been appointed as the new musical director of Dutch National Ballet and artistic director/principal conductor of Dutch Ballet Orchestra. He will take on his new role on 1 August 2024.

At present, Kessels serves as Music Director of both The Royal Ballet (Covent Garden, London) and Birmingham Royal Ballet. He will combine his new position at Dutch National Ballet and Dutch Ballet Orchestra with his role at The Royal Ballet. At the end of this theatre season, Kessels will step down as Music Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet.  Koen Kessels will succeed Matthew Rowe, who announced last April that he would be leaving Dutch National Ballet after more than a decade. Rowe will stay on through to July 2024 and will be back as a resident guest conductor after that.

Koen Kessels has served as a guest conductor at Dutch National Ballet and Dutch Ballet Orchestra since November 2008. In that capacity, he recently conducted The Sleeping Beauty (December 2022) and the Dawson programme, with compositions by Max Richter and Alex Baranowski (December 2022).


Next step

Koen Kessels: ‘I’m very excited to be taking the next step together with Ted Brandsen, Dutch National Ballet and Dutch Ballet Orchestra, and to help craft and narrate the story of ballet with them. I’m honoured to take on this challenge and to join such a great company and a wonderful orchestra. Through our previous collaborations, we’ve already developed a warm relationship. So, to me, it feels like coming home in a way.’

Ted Brandsen, director of Dutch National Ballet: ‘Koen is an inspiration as a musician and a great artistic partner, both for our company and for the orchestra. His broad international experience as one of the most prominent conductors of dance is invaluable to our musical evolution. His input will help our performances reach even greater musical heights. Koen’s position as Music Director of The Royal Ballet in London will contribute to building closer ties still between the two companies.’

Piet van Gennip, director of Dutch Ballet Orchestra: ‘In Koen Kessels, we’re delighted to have found an excellent ballet conductor and a worthy successor to Matthew Rowe. Koen is a master at combining music and dance into a magical experience that never fails to capture the audience’s imagination. Together with the musicians and staff at Dutch Ballet Orchestra, I’m very much looking forward to working with Koen and deepening our relationship well into the future.’


About Koen Kessels

Kessels was born in Ostend, Belgium, and studied at the Royal Flemish Conservatory of Music in Antwerp. In 2010, he was appointed Music Director at Birmingham Royal Ballet, followed by an appointment as Music Director at The Royal Ballet (Covent Garden, London) in 2015.

Kessels is a regular guest conductor at Teatro alla Scala (Milan, Italy), Bayerisches Staatsballett (Baden-Baden, Germany) and Opéra national de Paris, and has conducted for such companies as New York City Ballet, Kungliga Operan (Stockholm, Sweden), De Munt (Brussels, Belgium), Opera Ballet Vlaanderen (Antwerp/Ghent, Belgium), Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse (France), Wiener Staatsballett (Vienna, Austria), Teatro dell’Opera di Roma (Rome, Italy), Teatro Real Madrid (Spain), and New National Theatre Tokyo (Japan). His ballet repertory includes works such as Coppelia, Cinderella, Giselle, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Firebird, Jewels and Romeo and Juliet. His opera catalogue comprises Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin (Opera Ballet Vlaanderen), Hosokawa’s Hanjo, Lens’s Shell Shock, Requiem of War (De Munt, Brussels), Wim Henderickx’s De Bekeerlinge (Opera Ballet Vlaanderen) and operas by composers such as Mozart, Verdi, Puccini and Britten.

Kessels contributed to DVD releases such as Proust, Cinderella, Coppelia, Hommage à Jerôme Robbins and La Petite Danseuse De Degas (Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris), the Nutcracker & the Mouse King, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Frankenstein, Woolf Works, Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, Bernstein Celebration, Mayerling, The Dante Project (The Royal Ballet), Cinderella (Birmingham Royal Ballet) and La Reine Morte (Ballet du Capitole).

Kessels is an honorary professor in the Department of Music of Birmingham University, he is the Artistic Director of Inspiratum (Belgium) and he chairs the Artistic Direction Team (Classical Music) at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp. As the artistic director of Belgian-based HERMESensemble, Kessels has collaborated with composers such as Abrahamsen, Bartholomée, Benjamin, Brewaeys, Ferrari, Henderickx, Hosokawa, Van Hove, Huber, Maresz, Murail, Pagh-Paan, Van Parys, Saariaho, Talbot and Yared.