The Belgian ensemble Collegium Vocale Gent is an icon of historically informed interpretation. Their recordings of Bach cantatas, Passions and vocal polyphony by the Renaissance masters are among the finest in existence, treasured by listeners and critics alike. At the Prague Spring the ensemble will appear as a 13-member vocal-instrumental group and, under their founder, choirmaster and conductor Philippe Herreweghe, they will perform a programme entitled Madrigals in Arcadia, which brings together secular works by Italian masters from the late 16th and early 17th centuries and draws inspiration from classical mythology.
Arcadia, the historical region of the Peloponnesian Peninsula, was imprinted on the imagination of Renaissance and Baroque artists as a pre-Christian paradise inhabited by shepherds and filled with the delights of nature, love and singing. This mythical place, the home of the god Pan, familiar from the poetry of Theocritus and Virgil, fuelled the inspiration of composers at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries. Salomone Rossi, Sigismondo d’India, Luca Marenzio and Claudio Monteverdi wrote their most beautiful madrigals with this paradisal place in mind. Philippe Herreweghe compiled them into a remarkable programme comprising thematic chapters entitled Separation, Intimacy and Death, and culminating in the closing Lovers’ Reunion in Monteverdi’s famous madrigal Tirsi e Clori.
Monteverdi is one of the pillars of the ensemble’s repertoire. When Collegium Vocale Gent and Philippe Herreweghe brought out their second recording of the Italian master’s Vespers in 2017, the British magazine Gramophone named it Editor’s Choice, describing it as “superb”, and acknowledged the fact that, more than three decades since the release of their first recording, this second issue “feels fresh and bursting with delightfully collaborative musicianship.”
Philippe Herreweghe founded Collegium Vocale Gent in 1970 with a group of fellow students from Ghent University. He was one of the first musicians to explore historically informed interpretation in vocal music. His innovative approach soon caught the attention of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt, who invited him to join them in their recordings of the complete Bach cantatas.
Guided by their founder, Collegium Vocale Gent built up their reputation as a first-rate ensemble, recognised for their emphasis on the rhetorical aspect of the sung text and their crystal-clear sound. For these qualities the group is known in music venues throughout the world. In addition to concerts involving their own instrumental ensemble, the vocalists appear with a series of other ensembles performing on period instruments, and also alongside some of the world’s finest symphony orchestras, such as Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the Budapest Festival Orchestra or Staatskapelle Dresden. Headed by Herreweghe the ensemble has released more than one hundred recordings, many of which have become trustworthy sources within the given repertoire.