Jordi SavallViola da Gamba
Hespèrion XXI
Carlos NúñezGalacian Bagpipes

Jordi Savall

Thursday, May 3, 2018 | 7:30pm

Herbst TheatreVenue Information



Celtic Universe:
A dialogue between Ancient, Historical and Modern Traditions, featuring music from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany, Galicia and the Basque Country.


TURLOUGH O'CAROLAN: Planxty Irwin; Carolan’s Concerto TOMAS ANDERSON: Peter’s Peerie Boat

Performance Sponsors

Camilla and George Smith, Lead Sponsor
Amanda L. Nelson and Julian Reyes

About This Performance

Early music titan and visionary performer Jordi Savall makes his SF Performances debut when he comes to the Herbst Theatre with his Celtic Universe program, collaborating with Carlos Núñez and an ensemble of wind players, harp and bodhran. Together they trace the route of Celtic migration, from Ireland to Iberia, through music.

Performer Biographies

For more than 50 years, Jordi Savall, one of the most versatile musical personalities of his generation, has rescued musical gems from the obscurity of neglect and oblivion and given them back for all to enjoy. A tireless researcher into early music, he interprets and performs the repertory both as a gambist and a conductor. His activities as a concert performer, teacher, researcher and creator of new musical and cultural projects have made him a leading figure in the reappraisal of historical music. Together with Montserrat Figueras, he founded the ensembles Hespèrion XXI (1974), La Capella Reial de Catalunya (1987) and Le Concert des Nations (1989), with whom he explores and creates a world of emotion and beauty shared with millions of early music enthusiasts around the world.

Through his essential contribution to Alain Corneau’s film Tous les Matins du Monde, which won a César for the best soundtrack, his busy concert schedule (140 concerts per year), his recordings (6 albums per year) and his own record label, Alia Vox, which he founded with Montserrat Figueras in 1998, Jordi Savall has proved not only that early music does not have to be elitist, but that it can appeal to increasingly diverse and numerous audiences of all ages. As the critic Allan Kozinn wrote in the New York Times, his vast concert and recording career can be described as “not simply a matter of revival, but of imaginative reanimation.”

Savall has recorded and released more than 230 albums covering the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical music repertories, with a special focus on the Hispanic and Mediterranean musical heritage, receiving many awards and distinctions such as the Midem Classical Award, the International Classical Music Award and the Grammy Award. His concert programs have made music an instrument of mediation to achieve understanding and peace between different and sometimes warring peoples and cultures. Accordingly, guest artists appearing with his ensembles include Arab, Israeli, Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Afghan, Mexican and North American musicians. In 2008 Jordi Savall was appointed European Union Ambassador for intercultural dialogue and, together with Montserrat Figueras, was named “Artist for Peace” under the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors program.

He has played a seminal role in the rediscovery and performance of Una cosa rara and Il burbero di buon cuore by the composer Vincent Martín i Soler. He has also conducted Le Concert des Nations and La Capella Reial de Catalunya in performances of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, Vivaldi’s Farnace, Fux’s Orfeo ed Euridice and Vivaldi’s Il Teuzzone.

Jordi Savall’s prolific musical career has brought him the highest national and international distinctions, including honorary doctorates from the Universities of Evora (Portugal), Barcelona (Catalonia), Louvain (Belgium) and Basel (Switzerland), the order of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (France), the Praetorius Music Prize awarded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of Lower Saxony, the Gold Medal of the Generalitat of Catalonia and the prestigious Léonie Sonning Prize, which is considered the Nobel prize of the music world. “Jordi Savall testifies to a common cultural inheritance of infinite variety. He is a man for our time” (The Guardian).

Hespèrion XXI is the leading early music organization of the Iberian peninsula. It is a small mixed ensemble of about 12 players and singers and varies somewhat depending on the repertory chosen.

The founders of the group were bowed string instrument player Jordi Savall, vocalist Montserrat Figueras, plucked string instrument player Hopkinson Smith, and flutist/percussionist Lorenzo Alpert. Savall has been the musical director of Hespèrion since the beginning.

Hespèrion XX made its first appearances in 1974. Hespera, the Greek word for “West,” (and for the planet Venus as the Evening Star, which is only seen in the Western sky) is the root of “Hesperia”, a term denoting the two “western” peninsulas of Europe—Italy and Iberia; an inhabitant thereof was called an “Hesperio.” The “XX” in the group’s name related to the musicians’ goal of presenting the music to listeners of the twentieth century in a way designed to appeal to and educate them. The name was altered to Hespèrion XXI with the coming of the new century.

However, the name did not reflect a geographic limitation on the sources of their music. Although the group has always had Spanish and Portuguese music as a centerpiece of its repertory, it plays music from the rest of Europe as well—including Dowland, Tye, Bach, Scheidt, Purcell, and Rosenmüller, among many others—and even Asia and the Americas.

From the beginning, Hespèrion was known for its lively, dynamic performances. Its success and Savall’s presence on the Basle Conservatory faculty soon allowed it to expand its membership to include a full consort of viols and recorders, transverse flute, cornett, trombones, and keyboards.

The group has performed in dozens of countries in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, and in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. It is a frequent guest artist at major music festivals of the world. In 1987, the members of Hespèrion XX became the core of a larger formation, La Capella Reial de Catalunya (Royal Chapel Choir of Catalonia) and, in 1989, the Baroque orchestra Le Concert des Nations. Both groups enjoyed a growth of success and accomplishment similar to that of the original Hespèrion. Meanwhile, Hespèrion XXI continues to give about 100 concerts annually, often mixing the music of different cultures or including a narrative based on literature or a historical event.

Hespèrion has recorded on the Alia Vox (its own label), Philips, Archiv, Astrée/Auvidis, Fontalis, and EMI labels, and has won several significant recording prizes.

When the Los Angeles Times suggested that “if it’s possible to become a pop star playing traditional music on bagpipes and recorder, Carlos Núñez could be the man,” it may have been an understatement. Few pop stars pack the energy, virtuosity, imagination, daring, and charisma into their concerts and recordings as Galician multi-instrumentalist Carlos Núñez does. He is the world’s most famous player of the gaita, the bagpipes of Galicia, Spain’s northwest, Atlantic Ocean-abutting region rich in vibrant, uniquely expressive Celtic traditional music. Nevertheless, several decades ago Paddy Moloney, leader of the celebrated Irish traditional band the Chieftains, called Galicia “the unknown Celtic country,” implying that traditional music as exciting as Galicia’s was overdue for a global breakout in awareness and acclaim. Like the Chieftains, who became Ireland’s foremost ambassadors of Irish traditional music by spreading its appeal internationally, Carlos Núñez has become Galicia’s foremost traditional music ambassador by doing the same. He takes that important responsibility very seriously but without a shred of self-importance.

Born in 1971 and raised in the Galician port of Vigo, where he initially picked up the gaita at age eight, Carlos both embodies and reflects the irrepressible spirit of his native music. But he also understands the pitfalls of traditional music becoming incrementally complacent in approach and insulated from innovation. Under those conditions, even the heartiest music can eventually slip into predictability. Carlos respects and seeks to safeguard Galicia’s musical legacy while also skillfully exploring fresh, fascinating realms of possibility for it. All of that can be heard to great effect on his new CD, Inter-Celtic, released by Sony Music on February 10.

What does that title mean to Carlos Núñez? “I had asked myself that question since I was a kid in Vigo,” he admitted. “Finally I got an answer when, at twelve years of age, I was invited to play with the Inter-Celtic Festival of Lorient Orchestra in Brittany, France’s northwest region known for its own tradition of Celtic music. There, performers from seven Celtic countries put their traditional music together to form ‘one nation’ beyond languages and frontiers. Since then, that feeling of brotherhood has been a true mission for me.”

Jordi Savall Plays Works by Sieur de Machy and Marin Marais