An acclaimed conductor and scholar of Renaissance and Medieval music, Paul van Nevel is particularly known as the founder and director of the vocal group the Huelgas Ensemble. Van Nevel's passionate interest in Medieval and Renaissance music reflects his belief that modern culture, being fundamentally visual, neglects a fundamental aspect of its history. According to Van Nevel, most people who are familiar with the artworks of Bosch, Van Eyck, and Memling know nothing about the music these great artists listened to.
Van Nevel was born in Limburg, Belgium, on February 4, 1946. He grew up in a musical family and studied early music at Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland from 1969-1971. While there, in 1971, he founded the Huelgas Ensemble, a choral group focusing on music from the Medieval and Renaissance eras. He named his group after Las Huelgas Codex, an important source of knowledge about 13th century music. This codex was produced at the Cistercian convent near Burgos, Spain, the Monasterio de Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas. Van Nevel often searches for and performs little-known Flemish polyphony. He spends much of his time researching and transcribing early music, and many of his transcriptions have been published by Bärenreiter. Among his scholarly publications are a monograph on Johannes Ciconia, an essay on Nicolas Gombert and Flemish polyphony, and a study of the Franco-Flemish style of Northern France during the Renaissance.
In addition to leading the Huelgas Ensemble, Van Nevel has appeared as guest conductor with many groups, including the Nederlandse Bach Vereniging, the Collegium Vocale Gent, and the Nederlands Kamerkoor. A guest lecturer at the Sweelinck School of Music in Amsterdam, the Musikhochschule Hannover, and the Centre de Musique Ancienne de Genève, he teaches prospective choir masters the principles of notation, transcription, and interpretation of early music. The recording projects conceived for the Huelgas Ensemble are often associated with a particular time and place. One example is La Pellegrina, which features music that may have been used as entertainment at the 1589 wedding of the Grand Duke Ferdinando de' Medici and Christine of Lorraine. Van Nevel has been instrumental in bringing to the public the music of many Medieval and Renaissance masters, including Alexander Agricola and Mattheus Pipelare.
Under his leadership, the Huelgas Ensemble has received numerous recording prizes, including the Edison Award, the First Prize of the CD Compact Records Awards of 1991, the Diapason d'Or (twice), the de Caecilia Award, and the Prix in Honorem from the Académie Charles Cros. He has recorded with several labels, including Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, Harmonia Mundi, and Sony. In 2019, he led the Huelgas Ensemble on the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi album The Ear of Christopher Columbus.
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