Countertenor Kai Wessel is largely associated with Baroque repertory, but he also sings a fair amount of contemporary music, including his own compositions as well as works written for him. As a composer he has produced much vocal music and a significant number of instrumental compositions, including solo works for piano, harpsichord, and violin, as well as chamber music and other mostly small-scale compositions. As a singer Wessel has been involved with two early music groups, the Ensemble Contrapunctus and Ensemble Vocal Européen de la Chapelle Troyale, the latter conducted by Philippe Herreweghe. But Wessel has mainly freelanced, singing at major opera houses and concert halls throughout Europe, Japan, and the U.S. While his repertory is rich in works by J.S. Bach, Telemann, Handel, and other Baroque composers, he has also sung works by Reger, operas by contemporary composers Salvatore Sciarrino and Klaus Huber, and other modern fare. Wessel is on the faculty at Cologne's College of Music as a teacher of both voice and Baroque performance practices. He has made numerous recordings, many available from CPO, Harmonia Mundi, and Challenge. Kai Wessel was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1964. He was busy as a composer in his teens, turning out such works as the 1978 Barlach-Zyklus, a collection of six short pieces for piano. Wessel studied at the Lübeck Academy of Music, where his most important teachers were Ute von Garczynski (voice) and Friedhelm Döhl (composition). At the Berlin-based German Vocal Competition Wessel won prizes in both 1984 and 1988, and in 1990 he was a prizewinner at the Musica Antiqua Competition in Bruges, Belgium. His 1986 Trio, for piano, clarinet, and cello, and his 1990 Two Songs after Matthias Claudius, for high voice, clarinet, horn, violin, cello, and piano, came from this period, the latter on commission. His first recordings emerged from this time, as well, and included Domenico Scarlatti's Stabat Mater on Christophorus (1988) and Lassus' Lamentationes Jeremiae Prophetae on Harmonia Mundi France (1989). Around this time too, Wessel worked as an assistant to René Jacobs on opera productions in Innsbruck and Hamburg. Throughout the 1990s Wessel appeared in many major concerts, including the 1995 Berlin Philharmonic performance of Handel's Saul, in which he sang David. Wessel was busy in opera: among other roles, he portrayed the adulterous guest in the 1998 premiere of Salvatore Sciarrino's Lucie mei traditrici at the Schwetzingen Festival in Germany. That performance was issued on an acclaimed Kairos CD in 2001, which added to Wessel's already lengthy discography. Although his compositional output had slowed down from 1991, Wessel remained busy in the new century, especially in opera: along with much other activity, he sang the title role in Giustino in 2003 and 2004 at the Baden State Theater's Handel Festival in Karlsruhe. Wessel has also been busy in the concert hall and recording studio. Among his more acclaimed recordings is the 2011 Warner Classics recording of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion, with Ton Koopman conducting the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra.
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