The Spanish viola da gamba player, conductor, composer and teacher, Jordi Savall i Bernadet, began studying music when he was 6 in the school choir of his native town (1947-1955), learning cello and pursuing that instrument at the Barcelona Conservatory (1959-1964). In 1965, he took an interest in early music, collaborating with Ars Musicae Barcelona of Enric Gispert, and began learning the viola da gamba. Savall also gained proficiency in the various members of the viola family. He studied the gamba and early music research and practice with Wieland Kuijken in Brussels and August Wenzinger at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel (1968-1970), obtaining a diploma as soloist and professor in 1970. In 1973 (AMG) or 1974 (Wikipedia)) he succeeded August Wenzinger as professor of viola da gamba at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, where he continues to give courses and master-classes. Among his many pupils Alison Crum.
Jordi Savall is among the leading instrumentalists and conductors of the European early music scene, specializing in Renaissance and Medieval music. In 1968 he married the soprano Montserrat Figueras, who shared his interest in early music. With Figueras, Lorenzo Alpert and Hopkinson Smith and other musicians interested in early Spanish music, he founded in 1974 the ensemble Hespèrion XX. The ensemble took its name from an ancient name for the western European region from Italy to Iberia; Hespèrion was also a name for Venus as the Evening Star (in which aspect it appears only in the western skies). At the turn of the 21st century, the group changed its name to Hespèrion XXI. Savall and Hespèrion XX quickly became well known in early music circles. They favoured a style of interpretation characterised by great musical vitality and, at the same time, ultimate historical accuracy, and created a unique sound through the use of viols and other Medieval instruments such as the psaltery, wooden flutes, Moroccan drums, and the Afghan rebec (a double reed ancestor of the oboe). All these instrument are known to have been used by Medieval musicians, particularly in the Mediterranean region.
In 1987 he returned to Barcelona to found La Capella Reial de Catalunya, a vocal and instrumental ensemble devoted to music from before the 18th century. In 1989 Savall created Le Concert des Nations, an orchestra which is generally dedicated to music from the Baroque period, but sometimes also performs music from the classical or romantic repertoire (e.g. Sinfonía Grande Orquesta by Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga). Jordi Savall has extended his area of musical interest into the Baroque, leading performances of Orfeo by Monteverdi and Il burbero de Buion Cuore by Martin y Soler, and in the late 1990’s conducted L.v. Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony with Le Concert des Nations, winning praise for his well-researched and groundbreaking interpretation. More recently, Savall has performed with his family. The Savall family ensemble has included Jordi Savall's late wife, Montserrat Figueras, and their two children, Arianna and Ferran. Arianna Savall plays the harp and sings, like her mother. Ferran Savall plays the theorbo (bass lute) and sings (not only with his family but also in jazz clubs in Barcelona).
Jordi Savall’s chambers music partners have included: harpsichordists Ton Koopman (who recorded with him twice J.S. Bach’s Sonatas for viola da gamba & keyboard, BWV 1027-1029), Trevor Pinnock and Robert Veyron-Lacroix; flautists Stephen Preston, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Marc Hantaï and Alain Marion, oboist Alfredo Bernardini, violinst Fabio Biondi, and many others.
Jordi Savall has recorded well over 160 albums. Originally recording with EMI Classics, and then from 1975 with the Astrée Auvidis label of Michel Bernstein, but this legacy became part of Naïve after Astrée was sold to them in 2001. In 1996, Savall introduced his own Alia Vox label with a disc of Juan Cabanilles that has served as the platform for his recordings ever since. Alia Vox has also re-released many of his former albums for Alia Vox.
Jordi Savall adapted and performed music for the 1991 Alain Corneau film Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings of the World) about the composers Sainte-Colombe and Marin Marais and French viol players of the Baroque era. His work on this film made his name became internationally known and earned him a César award from the French film industry in 1992. The soundtrack has sold more than a million copies worldwide. As a composer, Jordi Savall has written music for the following films: Tous les matins du monde (All the Mornings of the World) by Alain Corneau (1991); El Pajaro de la felicidad (The Bird of Happiness) by Pilar Miró (1993); Joan the Maiden, Part 1: The Battles by Jacques Rivette (1993); Joan the Maiden, Part 2: The Prisons by Jacques Rivette (1994); Hosszú alkony (i.e. Long Dusk) by Attila Janisch (1997); Marquise by Vera Belmont; (1997) Top Secret by Jacques Rivette (1998).
Jordi Savall has been one of the major figures in the field of Western early music since the 1970’s, largely responsible for bringing the viol (viola da gamba) back to life on the stage. His characteristic repertorire ranges from Medieval to Renaissance and Baroque music, though he has occasionally ventured into the classical or even the romantic period. He has also taken advantage of his celebrity through traveling as a touring artist throughout the world with all three of his actively performing groups. For more than thirty years he has been devoted to the rediscovery of neglected musical treasures: thirty years of research, study and interpretation, both as violist and musical director. He has restored an essential repertoire to all those with ears to hear it. Beyond the happy few who already revered the instrument, he has created a wide audience for the viola da gamba, an instrument so refined that it takes us to the very brink of silence. One of the most multifariously gifted musicians of his generation, his career as a concert performer, teacher, researcher and creator of new projects, both musical and cultural, make him one of the principal architects of the current revaluation of historical music. His intense concert activity (140 concerts per year), recording projects (six per year) and more recently the creation of his own record label, Alia Vox, is proof that early music does not have to be elitist or of interest to only to a minority, and that it can and indeed does appeal to an increasingly large and young audience
Jordi Savall’s numerous awards and distinctions include “Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (1988) from the French Ministry of Culture and Communication; the “Sant Jordi Cross” (1990) awarded by the Generalitat (Autonomous Government) of Catalonia; “Musician of the Year” (1992), awarded by Le Monde de la Musique; “Soloist of the Year” (1993) awarded by Victoires de la Musique; the “Gold Medal for Fine Arts” (1998) from the Spanish Ministry of Culture and the Arts; Honorary Member of the Konzerthaus, Vienna (1999); Doctor honoris causa of the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium (2000); “Victoire de la Musique” in recognition of his professional achievements (2002); the Gold Medal of the Parliament of Catalonia (), and the German “Preise der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik” (2003). In 2000 he was awarded the Premi d'Honor Lluís Carulla, given for service to Catalan culture or for scientific, cultural or civic works in the Catalan language. He was awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa degree by the University of Barcelona on November 26, 2006. He was twice nominated for a Grammy, and won the 2011 Grammy Award for 'Best Small Ensemble Performance' for Dinastia Borja. Església i poder al Renaixement. In 2008 Savall was appointed a European Union ambassador for intercultural dialogue. In June 2008 he and his wife, Montserrat Figueras, were named "Artists for Peace" by UNESCO. In February, 2009 he received the Handel Music Prize from the city of Halle, Germany, and the National Music Prize from the National Council of Music and Arts of Catalonia. In 2010, he was given the Praetorius Musikpreis Niedersachsen and a MIDEM Classical Award, for his album "Jerusalem –La ville des deux Paix: La paix céleste et la paix terrestre." In 2012 Savall was awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize.