The Baroque violinist Fabio Biondi has been a pioneer in historically informed musical performance in his native Italy, both as a soloist and as the leader of his own Europa Galante ensemble. His sharp, energetic style has continued to influence the performance of Baroque music even as he himself has broadened his repertory across a 300-year period.
Biondi was born in Palermo, on the island of Sicily, on March 15, 1961. He showed talent in his violin lessons with Salvatore Cicero, who would later bequeath to him the use of the Carlo Ferdinando Gagliano violin of 1766 that he would play as an adult. By 12, Biondi was performing concertos with the RAI National Symphony Orchestra. One decisive turning point came when he met historically oriented violin players as a teen and immediately became fascinated by the Baroque and Classical forms of the instrument (which differ from the modern one in their strings, bridges, and bows rather than in the body of the instrument itself). When he was 16, he gave a concert on Baroque violin at Vienna's famed Musikverein, and he formed his own historical-instrument string quartet, the Stendhal Quartet, soon after that; the group did not focus exclusively on Baroque and Classical music but simply performed all its music, which included several commissioned contemporary compositions, on temporally appropriate instruments. Biondi went on to study at the Rome Conservatory, winning the school's first prize in violin. He performed with leading historical-instrument groups including Jordi Savall's Hespèrion XX (now Hespèrion XXI) and Les Musiciens du Louvre in the late 1980s.
Biondi's breakthrough came after he formed the Baroque ensemble Europa Galante in 1990. At the time, they were the first historical-instrument Baroque group in Italy, which had lagged behind northwestern Europe, Britain, and Austria in the field. Pent-up demand brought the group immediate success; within a few years they had made several best-selling recordings, including one of Vivaldi's Four Seasons violin concertos that sold 500,000 copies, and Europa Galante had snared invitations to prestigious venues including New York's Lincoln Center, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome (one of several venues where they have backed opera productions), and London's Royal Albert Hall. Biondi has also conducted modern symphony orchestras including the Radio France Philharmonic and the Gran Canaria Symphony Orchestra.
Biondi's recording career has been marked by extensive activity as both a violinist and conductor. As a soloist he has recorded for Opus 111, Virgin Classics, and Glossa, releasing on the latter label a 2019 recording: The 1690 "Tuscan" Stradivari. The previous year, he had conducted Europa Galante in a historical-instrument performance of Verdi's early opera Macbeth.
© James Manheim /TiVo