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The Egidius Kwartet was founded in 1995 by four members of Ton Koopman’s Amsterdam Baroque Choir with the aim of performing Renaissance and contemporary music from the Low Countries (in the broadest possible sense). The quartet was named after Egidius, an elegiac character from one of the most beautiful Middle Dutch poems contained in the so-called Gruythuys Manuscript.
At the heart of their repertoire lies music written during the reign of the Habsburgers (Charles V, Margaretha of Austria, Philip II). With their research, CD's and concerts, the Egidians sought and gained attention for the work of forgotten masters such as Nicolas Payen and Cornelius Canis. Their integral recording of Tielman Susato's two Musyckboexkens received much acclaim. A recording devoted to the chansons of Thomas Crecquillon was released in 2004 and in 2005 the Egidians presented the forgotten oeuvre of Gheerkin de Hondt. In 2006, the Songbook of Lauweryn van Watervliet was released on CD. In 2008, the quartet released an acclaimed recording of Lamentations by Lassus, Arcadelt, Agricola and de Morales. 2010 marked the start of a 6-year series of recordings and concerts devoted to the long-forgotten Leiden Choirbooks. For some programmes and recordings, the quartet is joined by renowned guest singers and players.
The Leiden Choirbooks project
In 2009, the quartet embarked upon the most ambitious project in its history: the musical reconstruction of a cultural legacy which had lain unheard for centuries, The Leiden Choirbooks. Over the next few years, the singers will reinstate this hidden treasure, one of The Netherlands' top archive collections, by means of an annual concert series, six 2CD-recordings, a dedicated website (www.leidsekoorboeken.nl), publications and educational fringe programmes.
In addition to performing Renaissance music, the Egidius Kwartet aims to continue a tradition in which singers are ambassadors of new music from their country. Their 20th century programme Egidius sings Egidius, with pieces written by Dutch and Flemish composers - some of which are dedicated to the quartet – was released on CD in 2005. Together with Brisk Recorder Quartet Amsterdam, the Egidius Kwartet devised a programme called Triptica, that combines music by contemporary Dutch composers and 14th century ars subtilior works. For the festival Traces of Voices, young composers have written music to texts by Paul Celan for Egidius and the Prinse (violin) Kwartet. For the quartet’s tenth aniversary, Bart Visman wrote a madrigal cycle for Egidius with the soprano Claron McFadden. Theo Loevendie, Cornelis de Bondt, Mayke Nas and Martijn Padding wrote new pieces for a concert series with the Nederlands Blazers Ensemble.
In order to avoid any semblance of orthodoxy, every deviation from the primary mission is regarded as a welcome diversion. For example, the quartet performs a Schubert programme with fortepianist Arthur Schoonderwoerd and soprano Johannette Zomer and sang Kurt Weill’s Die sieben Todsünden with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. It collaborated in a semi-scenic production of Lully’s opera Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme with Combattimento Consort Amsterdam, performed Odes by Henry Purcell with The Northern Consort and sang the Llibre Vermell melodies (1399) in new arrangements for and with Cobla La Principal d’Amsterdam. In 2010, the quartet sang Hans Werner Henze's Opfergang with the Bochumer Symphoniker.
The quartet has sung at many venues in the Netherlands, amongst others in the Early Music Network series, made successful tours to France, Spain, Bolivia, Peru and the Untied States and has performed at the Holland Early Music Festival, the Holand festival, the Flanders Festival, Musica Flandrica, the Tagen der alten Musik in Innsbruck, the Ambronay Festival, the Festival des Cathédrales de Picardie, the Festival de Musique Ancienne à l’Institut Néerlandais in Paris, the Radovljica Festival in Slovenia, the Dubrovnik Early Music Festival, the Festival of Early Music in Aldenbiesen (Belgium,) the Arolser Barockfestpiele, the Gergjev Festival, the Washington National Gallery and the Schleswig Holstein Music Festival. For some years, Egidius also organised its own series in Rotterdam and has appeared a number of times at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The quartet has given workshops in ensemble singing at the Enschede Conservatory, at the Hochschule für Musik in Heek, Germany, in the Traces Festival of Voices in Tilburg, in Italy and Copenhagen and at the Early Music Festival in Hoorn (NL).
Biographies of the singers
Peter de Groot, altus and artistic leader
After studying with the distinguished singing teacher Aafje Heynis at the Arnhem Conservatoire, Peter de Groot sang for some years with Collegium Vocale Gent under Philippe Herreweghe and in Ton Koopman's Amsterdam Baroque Choir, also appearing as a soloist. He also sang in solo ensembles such as the Huelgas Ensemble (Paul van Nevel), Currende Consort, Camerata Trajectina, Gesualdo Consort, and the Cappella Figuralis of the Netherlands Bach Society.
As the artistic leader of the Egidius Kwartet he is responsible for the research and preparation of the repertoire. He also encourages contemporary composers to write new pieces for the group. In the musicological field De Groot proudly considers himself as a pupil of maestro Paul van Nevel.
Jon Etxabe Arzuaga - tenor
Jon Etxabe Arzuaga was born on a lovely spring day in Tolosa, Basque Country. At the age of fourteen he started singing in a choir. After spending a few years at University studying philosophy, he decided to focus more on music and after some years of singing in many ensembles, his love for music brought him to the Netherlands. Here he studied singing at the Sweelinck Conservatoire in Amsterdam with Udo Reineman and Pierre Mak. Almost immediately after his arrival, he became a member of Cappella Amsterdam. He also sings with other groups such as Capilla Penaflorida and Vokal Consort Berlin.
Hans Wijers, baritone
Baritone Hans Wijers initially studied Dutch language and literature at Nijmegen University, but soon turned to singing. After his first two years at the Arnhem Conservatoire with the great Dutch teacher Aafje Heynis, he moved to the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, where he studied with Meinard Kraak, and graduated in 1988. In the following years, he studied with Margreet Honig in Amsterdam and was coached by various teachers such as Jard van Nes, Paul Hillier, Max van Egmond, Lynne Dawson and Diane Forlano.
Donald Bentvelsen, bass
The bass-baritone Donald Bentvelsen (Den Hoorn 1964) discovered singing whilst studying English language and literature when he joined the Leiden English Choir. After graduating, he went to study at the Sweelinck Conservatoire in Amsterdam under Margreet Honig and completed his studies in 1994. He followed master-classes with Bernard Kruysen and Udo Reinemann and sang a number of opera roles, including Count Almaviva (Le Nozze di Figaro/Mozart).