Robert Hollingworth founded in 1986 the vocal ensemble I Fagiolini at Oxford, encouraged by Edward Higginbottom and John Milsom, and has since concentrated much of his musical life with this group.
I Fagiolini is acknowledged worldwide as the most innovative British vocal ensemble specialising in early music. Their stylish staged productions of Renaissance and Baroque music-theatre works together with virtuosic performances of contemporary repertoire have won them friends from the BBC Proms to Soweto and brought this repertoire to both specialist and completely new audiences.
I Fagiolini's Theatre of Music project presents newly commissioned or 16th/17th century music theatre masterworks that have been otherwise ignored due to their difficult context or complicated staging needs. Purcell's Indian Queen with puppets, masked Venetian comedies and mini dramas by Janequin (La Chasse) and Da Flecha (La Bomba, El Fuego) have all been brought back to life in highly imaginative settings by Peter Wilson (West End), John La Bouchardière (English National Opera) and John Fulljames (Royal Opera House). The Full Monteverdi was hailed by The Times as 'A compelling but upsetting piece of theatre… A bleak but brilliant evening", The Guardian as 'an unforgettable experience' and The Independent as 'Music theatre hardly comes more visceral than this'.
The name I Fagiolini has been misspelt and mispronounced throughout the world. As well as working extensively in Western Europe, I Fagiolini has visited some of the most interesting countries on the globe, often as ambassadors for the British Council. Particular highlights include Hong Kong, China, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, The Ukraine and the USA. In April 1997 they spent two weeks in South Africa working with a choir from Soweto on a partly improvised album, Simunye. This original and moving project was released by Erato on their crossover label Detour, toured to Europe, South Africa and Bermuda, returning to the UK in May of 2006 for an acclaimed UK tour.
Collaborations have been a feature of recent years: J.S. Bach's St. John Passion (BWV 245) with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Christmas Vespers in Venice with the English Cornett and sackbut Ensemble, Byrd with Fretwork and Concordia and a new project with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Robert Hollingworth. In December 2006, they worked with the Academy of Ancient Music for a J.S. Bach project which also included a new commission from Adrian Williams. The group's achievements were duly recognised in May 2006 when the Royal Philharmonic Society presented them with the Ensemble Award.
I Fagiolini released the first disc of a New Monteverdi Series for Chandos in November 2006 (Flaming Heart) and in January 2007 filmed The Full Monteverdi for TV and DVD release. They have rmade twelve other CD's including English Renaissance works and a focus on Venice with Carnevale Veneziano, Andrea Gabrieli - The Madrigal in Venice: Politics, Dialogues and Pastorales, (nominated for a Gramophone award) and a DVD of Vecchi's masked comedy L'Amfiparnaso with actor Simon Callow. This was the first DVD of a staged Renaissance work described as 'a silk purse [turned] into one beaded in gold… we end up with the best of all worlds' (Gramophone) and 'a triumph for I Fagiolini and Chandos and a benchmark for the DVD industry as a whole' (International Record Review).
I Fagiolini's fast rising educational profile takes in all ages, from adult master-classes at the Dartington International Summer School to children's workshops funded by the National Foundation of Youth Music. The ensemble is Winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society Ensemble Award, 2006.