René Jacobs began his career as a countertenor and quickly earned the reputation as one of the finest of his time. He gradually turned to conducting and, since the turn of the new century, has rarely sung in concert. As a countertenor, Jacobs championed a string of forgotten Baroque composers on his recordings: Antonio Cesti, Sigismondo d'India, and Luca Marenzio, to name a few, but he also sang, in both concert and opera, many standards by Monteverdi, J.S. Bach, and Handel, among others. As a conductor, he has led many performances of sacred music by Bach and Buxtehude and has focused heavily on the operas of Monteverdi, Handel, and Mozart. He has conducted purely orchestral music as well, notably symphonies by Haydn and Mozart. In 2021, Jacobs issued a recording of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester and Berlin RIAS Kammerkor.
Jacobs was born in Ghent, Belgium, on October 30, 1946. As a child, he was a chorister at St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent. After obtaining a degree in philology from Ghent University, he studied voice with Louis Devos and Lucie Frateur. Later, he took master classes with countertenor Alfred Deller. Already active on the concert stage, Jacobs made his operatic debut in Amsterdam in 1974, singing Clerio in Francesco Cavalli's Erismena. In 1977, Jacobs founded Concerto Vocale, an ensemble he would appear with in many concerts, operatic productions, and recordings. By the 1980s, Jacobs was steeped in conducting commitments, though he continued to sing, often in the same concerts. He was also editing performing editions of operas, as he famously did for the 1989 performance he led at the Opera de Montpellier of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea. In the 1990s, Jacobs established his credentials as one of the finest conductors on record of Mozart's operas. His 1998 Così fan tutte, for Harmonia Mundi, became one of the label's best-selling recordings, but it wasn't just his Mozart that drew attention: Jacobs' performances of Haydn's Il mondo della luna at the 2001 Innsbruck Early Music Festival and at the Staatsoper unter den Linden the following year drew lavish critical praise. Jacobs served as the artistic director of the Innsbruck Early Music Festival from 1996 until 2009.
He hasn't slowed down his performing and recording pace in the 21st century, and his more than 200 releases are available on a variety of labels, including Harmonia Mundi, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, and Berlin Classics, among others. Jacobs has earned many awards in his career, including several Cannes Classical Awards (one for his recording of Handel's Rinaldo in 2004), the prestigious Diapason d'Or more than ten times (one for his recording of Haydn's The Seasons in 2005), and a Grammy Award in 2005 for his recording of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. In 2021, he led the Freiburger Barockorchester and Berlin RIAS Kammerkor in a recording of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, on Harmonia Mundi.
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