Trevor Pinnock is the founder and former conductor of the English Concert, one of Europe's leading period instrumental and vocal ensembles. He began his career as a harpsichordist and has returned to that field during the latter part of his career.
Pinnock was born on December 16, 1946, in Canterbury, England. His father was a publisher, his mother was a singer, and his grandfather was a Salvation Army bandleader. Pinnock's first musical experiences came as a boy chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, where he also attended the cathedral's choir school. He earned a Foundation Scholar position at the Royal College of Music, where he studied Ralph Downes and Millicent Silver and earned prizes in harpsichord and organ. An RCM registrar advised Pinnock that it would be impossible to make a living as a harpsichordist, but the young musician was paying attention to the growth of the early music movement in Europe under such figures as harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt, a major influence. He forged ahead, forming the Galliard Harpsichord Trio, which made its debut at the Royal Festival Hall in 1966. At first, the group played modern instruments, but they soon switched to historically informed performances. At the time, few musicians played historical instruments, and Pinnock and his group were at the forefront of developing new performance techniques. Pinnock also performed as a harpsichord soloist, making his debut in London in 1968.
For a time, he played modern works for harpsichord by the likes of Falla and Poulenc, but with early music on the rise, he soon began to perform Baroque and Renaissance works. In 1975, he was the harpsichordist in the world premiere of Rameau's last opera, Les Boréades, under conductor John Eliot Gardiner. The Galliard Harpsichord Trio also experienced success and began to expand, first from three to seven players, whereupon the group took the new name the English Concert, making its debut under that name in 1972. Soon it expanded to chamber orchestra size, performing music of the Baroque and early Classical periods on historically appropriate instruments. The English Concert made its debut at the BBC Proms in 1980 and its first U.S. tour in 1983, over time becoming one of the world's best-known period instrument ensembles and winning praise from, among others, Leonard Bernstein. Beginning with Handel's oratorio Solomon, HWV 67, in 1986, the ensemble has taken on larger Baroque works in addition to chamber orchestra pieces. Pinnock made his debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera, leading a performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare, HWV 17, in 1988, and he has served as a guest conductor of numerous orchestras, including the Boston, San Francisco, and Detroit Symphony Orchestras. He founded a new ensemble, The Classical Band, in New York in 1989, and from 1991 until 1997, Pinnock served as the principal conductor of the National Arts Center Orchestra in Ottawa, Canada. Wanting to devote more time to the harpsichord, he stepped down as director of the English Concert in 2003. He has remained active into senior citizenhood, touring the world with the European Brandenburg Ensemble (with which he has recorded Bach's Brandenburg Concertos) and embarking on various educational projects.
Beginning in 1974 with Trevor Pinnock at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Pinnock has amassed a vast catalog of more than 150 recordings as conductor and harpsichordist, often releasing five or more albums in the course of a single year. The English Concert issued many of its recordings on Archiv Produktion, the early music arm of the Deutsche Grammophon label. He has remained active as a recording artist into the 2020s, often performing the music of Bach on harpsichord. In 2020, he released J.S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier 1 on Deutsche Grammophon. In 1992, Pinnock was named Commander of the British Empire.
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