CONDUCTOR, COMPOSER AND VIOL PLAYER: AN AUTORITY IN EARLY MUSIC
"I find it fascinating to discover beautiful music"
Jordi Savall i Bernadet (72), born Igualada in 1942 in Spain, is a Catalan conductor, composer, musicologist, teacher and viol player, who became an authority in Western early music since the 1970s. He has been one of the major figures in this field, largely responsible for bringing instruments of the viol family (most notably the viola da gamba) back to life on the stage. His characteristic repertory emphasizes medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music, even though he has occasionally ventured into the Classical and even the Romantic periods. Although he is regarded as the 'Maesto of the Viola da Gamba', Savall remains modest. He refuses to be referred to as an 'an expert', and simply says: "'I am not specialized, I just like beautiful music from all over the world. I like any sort of music, old music, traditional music, pop music."
"Last year I have been working in very different repertoires going from contemporary music (Arvo Pärt) to the baroque, renaissance and medieval repertoires, including oral traditional Celtic and oriental repertoires (Arabic music, Armenian and Turkish music, music from Afghanistan and Syria, and music from the Balkan). I am curious, and I find it always fascinating to discover beautiful music."
A young man of 2500 years old
Savall is not impressed either by figures or ages. He doesn't feel 72 years old, but rather 'ageless'. In the spirit of a philosopher, he says: "Althoug I am a true Catalan for 100 per cent, I am a mix of cultures and belong to generations before me. I think I am about 2500 years old. Age is the legacy of generations. We are not the age of one man living now. We are the results of our fathers and grandfathers." A young man of 2500 years old. Probably that is the best way to look upon a man who, thanks to his wide range of musical knowledge, his reforming techniques for the viola da gamba, and his mastery of a number of instruments, stands out in the world of early music.
The Catalan gambist Jordi Savall is one of the most illustrious musicians in the musical firmament when talking about the family of string instruments. His main focus is early music, and he can be regarded as a cosmopolitian adept in this field, since he taught himself to play this kind of music from many different countries on a variety of string instuments. Savall plays the cello, the viola da gamba, his favourite instrument, and also the Arabic rebab, the fiddle, the European vielle and even has a Venetian viola of around 1553. Furthermore, he plays the tenor viol and the gamba basso. But, in the spheres of early music he is most famous for his play on the viola da gamba.
"I discovered a forgotten instrument: the viola da gamba"
Jordi Savall started studying vocal music at the tender age of 6, when he joined the boy's choir at the primary school of his native town, where he sang for 8 years (1947-1955). A few years later, in 1957, he started learning to play the cello at the Conservatory del Liceu of the City of Barcelona, a study which he finished at the Conservatory Superior de Barcelona. How does a 6-year-old boy become interested in singing in a choir and playing the cello? And then, as a kind of ultimate passion, after completing his cello studies, changing to the viola da gamba, a musical genre in which he now excels as the European Maestro. Savall clearly remembers his love for music from his childhood. "I loved the beauty of the songs of the boy's choir in Igualada. Then, more or less at the age of 15, I listened to a rehearsal of Mozart's Requiem, and it impressed me so much, that I decided to learn to play the cello. I studied the cello for eight years, until 1965, but during my studies I gradually became interested in early music. Since I was an autodidact, I taught myself to play the viola da gamba, because much music for the viola da gamba had to be played on the cello, but I liked it so much, that I wanted to play it on a viola da gamba. When I played the same music on a viola da gamba, it sounded much better than on the cello. So then I discovered a new instrument. In the 1960s and 1970s there were very few people who had played the viola da gamba. And for me that was an exciting experiment. I played music from the 14th, 15th and later centuries. It was fascinating. And I enjoyed playing the music for the viola da gamba on the cello so much, that when I finished my cello studies, some friends asked me: why are you playing this viola da gamba music on the cello? Why don't you start playing it on a viola da gamba? And then, at the same time, I met a group of amateur musicians in Barcelona, Ars Musicae de Barcelona, who invited me to play with them on the viola da gamba. I joined them in 1965, and that is where I met my future wife, Montserrat Figueras, who was singing (soprano) in the vocal ensemble of Ars Musicae and also studied the cello with the same teacher." Montserrat Figueras was singing with the vocal ensemble Ars Musicae de Barcelona, which performed medieval music and was founded in the thirties, with the directors Josep María Lamaña (1935-1957), Enric Gispert (1957-1972), Romà Escalas Llimona (1972-1979). The famous Catalan soprano Victoria de Los Angeles had a long association with the group. Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras both performed in their careers with Ars Musicae of Barcelona, while it was directed by Gispert. Montserrat Figueras unfortunately died in November 2011.
"Music was my best teacher"
"After finishing my cello studies in Barcelona in 1964, and being already interested in early music, I practised and performed on the viola da gamba during a period of 4 years, for myself and with Ars Musicae of Barcelona. After that, I went to study the viola da gamba in Basel in 1968 in the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, where I got lessons from August Wenzinger. I studied viola da gamba with him, and harpsichord, basso continuo, chamber music and also I learned conducting. Professor Wenzinger was a great musician and a great authority in the first revival of early music. He accepted that I developed a whole new concept to play the viola da gamba. He assisted me in developing a new system for playing the viola da gamba." Wenzinger was a prominent cellist and viol player, and a pioneer of historically informed performance, both as a master of the viola da gamba and as a conductor of Baroque orchestral music and operas. In 1973 Savall succeeded August Wenzinger as a viola da gamba teacher in the Schola Cantorum Brasiliensis. Jordi Savall:"I was much inspired by August Wenzinger, but also by the famous Flemish viol player, Wieland Kuijken. I met him in the period that I gave my first viola da gamba concert, in Barcelona, where he had performed too, in the same week. I attended his concert and I kept in touch with him. He was teaching in The Hague and Brussels. But although I learned very much from August Wenzinger and Wieland Kuijken, the original music by Marais, Couperin, Mr. de Sainte Colombe was my best teacher. I learned most from music itself."
Montserrat Figueras (19042-2011): a leading light of a new generation of musicians
Montserrat Figueras: early music singer, cythara player and an expert in early vocal music.
Montserrat Figueras, who married Jordi Savall in 1967, was an expert in medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music. Born in Barcelona, as the daughter of musicians and music-lovers, she gained international recognition through her particularly lucid and artistic sensibility. In 1966 she started to study old vocal techniques, from the troubadours to the Baroque period. Montserrat Figueras would always remain faithful to the original spirit of the work she performed. In 1968 Montserrat Figueras studied with the Swiss baritone Kurt Widmer, the Estonian mezzo-soprano Andrea von Ramm, and the American lutenist, musicologist and early music scholar Thomas Binkley at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel. During the 1970s she developed herself as one of the leading lights of a generation of musicians who asserted the need to re-examine the technical, artistic and expressive focus that had until then dominated performances of works prior to 1800. Her aim was to emphasize the beauty and emotion of the voice in performances, while giving prioriy to the poetic and spiritual dimension of the lyrics. In the course of her career Montserrat Figueras recorded over 60 CDs and recieved many awards, such as the Grand Prix de l'Académie du Disque Français, the Edison Klassiek Award, the Grand Prix de l'Académie Charles Cross and a Grammy Award for the disc-book Dinastia Borgia (2011). In 2003 she was appointed Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and in 2008 she was appointed 'Artist for Peace' by UNESCO. In 2009, together with Jordi Savall, she received the Prix Méditerranée and the UnescoCat International Prize. In 2011 she was awarded the Creu de Sant Jordi by the Generalitat de Catalunya for her artistic achievements.
Hespèrion XX, La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations
Together with Montserrat Figueras, Lorenzo Alpert and Hopkinson Smith, Jordi Savall founded Hespèrion XX in 1974. The ensemble took its name from an ancient name for the western European region from Italy to Iberia. Hespèrion was also a name for Venus as the Evening Star. At the turn of the 21rst century the group changed its name to Hèsperion XXI. Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XX quickly became well-known in early music circles. They favoured a style of interpretation characterised by great musical vitality and created a unique sound through the use of viols and other medieval instruments,such as the psaltery, wooden flutes, Moroccan drums, and the Afghan rebec (a bowed, stringed instrument of the Renaissance era), played under the arm or chin.
Jordi Savall is well-known as a principal architect of the current revival of historical music. After the founding of Hespèrion XX, he co-founded in 1987, together with his wife, La Capella Reial de Catalunya and a third ensemble, 'Le Concert des Nations', was founded, also with his wife, in 1989. Then in 1998 Savall founded his own record label ALIA VOX, an exclusive producing and publishing company of all the new recordings of Hespèrion XXI, La Capella Reiual de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations. The breakthrough in Savcall's careerc was when he played the soundtrack of the award-winning film Tous les matins du Monde, by Alain Corneau. The film, in which Montserrat Figueras also performs in the soundtrack, describes the life of the French composer and viol player Marin Marais ((1656-1728). A few years ago Jordi Savall also performed with his family: his wife Montserrat Figueras and their two children: Arianna and Ferran (Arianna playing the harp and singing, like her mother, and Ferran playing the bass lute (theorbo), while also singing. Jordi Savall has recorded well over 160 albums. In 2013 hte performed in about 140 concerts and his agenda for 2014 is already fully booked. In January he gives master classes in Luxembourg (Ettelbrück), and concerts in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Breda), Spain (Barcelona), Italy (Naples and Rome), Belgium (Ghent) and France (Villefranche-sur-Saône and Meylan). In his career of more than 40 years, he received many awards and was honoured many times for his extraordinary achievements in music, such as:.Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture 91988); the Creu de Sant Jordi by the Generalitat de Catalunya (1990); Musician of the Year by Le Monde de la Musique (1992); awarded the Medalla de Oro (1998) by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Culture; Member of Honour of the Konzerthaus in Vienna (1999); awarded the Victoire de la Musique Pize for his professional career (2002); European Union Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue and Artist for Peace as part of UNESCO's Goodwill Ambassadors programme (2008) together with his wife Montserrat Figueras; Ambassador of the Year for Creativity and Innovation (2009) of the European Union; awarded the Händelpreis of the City of Halle, Germany (2009); awarded the UnescoCat Int