Baroque violinist Rachel Podger has combined specialist knowledge with an accessible public persona, collaborating with many historical-performance groups. In the 21st century, she has also emerged as an important educator.
Podger was born in England in 1968. Her primary education was at a Rudolf Steiner school in Germany, where she took up the violin early. In England, she studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with Pauline Scott and David Takeno. At this point, the Baroque violin was still rarely taught in British conservatories. Podger, applying to study the instrument in her first year, was turned down because, she was told, the school's only Baroque violin had already been given to another student. Refusing to take no for an answer, Podger acquired a Baroque violin, and secretly took lessons with Micaela Comberti at Guildhall. During this time, she also worked with her brother, Julian Podger, who had formed the Trinity Baroque ensemble in Cambridge. Eventually, Podger was able to take regular classes on the Baroque violin, and she found a ready market for her talents, both as a soloist, and as a chamber music group leader.
One of Podger's earlier groups was the Palladium Ensemble, which had a distinctive sound with a viola da gamba, and one or more plucked instruments (no harpsichord) for a continuo. In 1991, she co-founded the successful Baroque group Florilegium, specializing in music from the 17th through 19th centuries. She also performed with the London Baroque, among other groups, during this time. The Palladium Ensemble was featured in a major rising-groups concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 1996. The following year, Podger became the leader of the well-established English Concert, remaining in that position until 2002. Since then, she has often conducted Baroque groups from the violin. She became guest director of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in 2004, leading the group on a tour of the U.S. She would also become the guest director for other early music ensembles, including the Santa Fe Pro Musica, and Musica Angelica. Podger often performed as a soloist with the Academy of Ancient Music, another long-established Baroque group. In 2007, Podger founded Brecon Baroque, specializing in the music of Bach and his contemporaries.
Podger has also established an extensive teaching career, having taught at the Guildhall School, as well as the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the Hochschule für Künste in Bremen, and the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. In 2008, she became professor of Baroque violin at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Podger has often recorded for the Channel Classics label, releasing a cycle of Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin in 2002. Her recorded repertory has extended as far forward as Mozart, but most of her recordings involve Baroque favorites. In 2018, she released a recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons violin concertos with the ensemble Brecon Baroque, as well as a solo album: a transcription of Bach's solo cello sonatas for Baroque violin.
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