Skip Sempé, virtuoso harpsichordist and founder of Capriccio Stravagante, is at the forefront of today’s musical personalities in Renaissance and Baroque music. Sempé grew up in New Orleans, studied music, musicology, organology and the history of art in the United States at the Oberlin Conservatory and completed his training in Europe with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam. His distinctive harpsichord playing, musicianship and interpretive flair were quickly noticed by Reinhard Goebel and William Christie, who encouraged him to remain in Europe and embark on his own pioneering reconsideration of well and lesser-known repertoire ranging from 1500 – 1750.
Capriccio Stravagante now incorporates the chamber ensemble, the Capriccio Stravagante Orchestra, the Capriccio Stravagante Renaissance Orchestra and Capriccio Stravagante Opera. The diverse vocal and instrumental formations of Capriccio Stravagante feature the finest European, American and Canadian musicians. The combination of nonchalance and power which are the trademarks of Skip Sempé and Capriccio Stravagante’s performances have been rewarded with outstanding critical praise worldwide.
As a solo performer, Sempé has focused on developing a superb sense of idiomatic harpsichord touch and a finely tuned ear for achieving variation in the instrument’s sonority. Performing and recording on the world’s most prestigious harpsichords, made by Ruckers, Skowroneck, Kennedy and Sidey, Skip Sempé is particularly known for his interpretations of the French classical harpsichord literature including Chambonnieres, d’Anglebert, Forqueray, Louis and Francois Couperin and Rameau, for his adventurous and ground-breaking Bach and Scarlatti, and for the earlier virginalist repertoire of Byrd and his contemporaries. Solo performances from Seattle to Tokyo – including La Roque d’Antheron, dedication concerts for the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Chateau de Versailles – as well as masterclasses for the Leipzig Bach Festival, the Berkeley Early Music Festival, Mc Gill University and the University of Montreal have attracted a particularly enthusiastic following. Recent prizewinning recordings include “Pavana – The Virgin Harpsichord”, featuring Elizabethan music for one, two and three harpsichords with his colleagues Olivier Fortin and Pierre Hantai.
Skip Sempé combines the rare synthesis of uncompromising musical moderator and admired virtuoso performer. He is in constant demand as a recording artist, having succeded Gustav Leonhardt for the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label and Jordi Savall for Astree. As a solo harpsichordist or as a basso continuo player of infinite finesse with Capriccio Stravagante, Skip Sempé has assured the ongoing traditions of those pioneers and vast repertoires with more than two dozen prizewinning recordings. They document Skip Sempé’s dedication to strategic planning of repertoire, artist and programming, as well as featuring new and important collaborators such as Guillemette Laurens, Maria Bayo, Jay Bernfeld, Mike Fentross, Manfredo Kraemer, Olivier Fortin, Julien Martin, Josh Cheatham, Chanticleer and the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montreal. With special regard for his recording techniques, in production as well as post-production, The New Grove has written that Sempé strives “to transfer the spontaneity of a live performance to the recorded medium”.
Among the distinctions Skip Sempé has received for his recordings are the Diapason d’ Or de l’année, the Choc du Monde de la Musique de l’année, Grand Prix du Disque de l’ Academie du Disque Francais, Gramophone Critic’s Choice, Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, Goldberg 5 Stars, Telerama ffff, Opera International 4 croches, Stereo Review Best of the Month, Penguin Guide Yearbook Award, Top 10 Classics USA, Gramophone Editor’s Choice, 10 de Repertoire, 10 de Classica, CD Classica Scelte d’ Editore, and a Grammy Award Nomination for the debut recording of the Capriccio Stravagante Orchestra.
“Sempé, a performer with deep feeling for Baroque style and practice, puts his stamp on everything he does. This is simply some of the most exciting old-music performance around.”
Olivier Fortin graduated with distinction from the Québec Conservatory in 1995 in the class of Anatole Gagnon. He continued his training with Dom André Laberge, obtained a Master Degree from University of Montreal under the direction of Réjean Poirier, and received several scholarships for studies in Paris with Pierre Hantai and in Amsterdam with Bob van Asperen. In 1997 he was awarded top prizes at the Montreal Bach Competition and the Bruges Festival, and received the Capriccio Stravagante Prize in 1998.
He is increasingly in demand as a soloist and chamber musician, touring and recording throughout Europe, China and South Korea, the United States and Canada with Masques, Capriccio Stravagante, Tafelmusik, Opera Quarta, Chanticleer, the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal and Les Voix Humaines. He also performs with Skip Sempé and Pierre Hantaï in programs of music for two and three harpsichords.
Olivier Fortin has appeared in the Festivals of Berkeley, La Roque d’Antheron, Utrecht, Aldeburgh, Regensburg, Zermatt, Montreal Baroque; Music Before 1800 and the Frick Collection in New York, the Cite de Musique in Paris, the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, BOZAR Music in Brussels, the Folle Journée in Nantes, Bilbao and Lisbon and the Festival Bach de Lausanne. As both solo harpsichordist and featured collaborative artist, he has recorded more than twenty CDs for Analekta, Atma, Paradizo, Alpha and Teldec.
Olivier Fortin is the founder and director of the Montreal-based ensemble Masques. Since 1998, the ensemble has become a strategic meeting point for young Canadian musicians. From 2004-2008 he taught harpsichord and chamber music at the Conservatoire de Musique de Quebec, and he currently teaches at the Tafelmusik Summer Institute in Toronto.