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In his school years at the University of Ghent, Herreweghe combined studies in medical science and psychiatry with a musical education at the Ghent Conservatory, where Marcel Gazelle, Yehudi Menuhin's accompanist, was his piano teacher. In the same period, he began conducting and in 1970 founded the Collegium Vocale Ghent, and gave up medicine. Very soon Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt took notice of his musical approach, and invited him and the "Collegium Vocale Gent" to join them in their recordings of the complete Bach cantatas.
Herreweghe's approach to baroque music came to be widely recognised, and in 1977 he founded another ensemble in Paris, La Chapelle Royale, to perform the music of the French Golden Age. Since then, he has started several other groups and ensembles with whom he managed to create a repertoire stretching from the Renaissance to contemporary music: the Ensemble Vocal Européen, which specialises in Renaissance polyphony, and the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, founded in 1991 to revive the repertoire of the romantic and pre-romantic era on original instruments.
He is principally known as a conductor of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. He is regarded by leading Bach scholars today as a founding father of the baroque authentic practice, original-instrument movement and one of record label Harmonia Mundi's most prolific recording artists, with over sixty albums to his name.
As a guest conductor, Philippe Herreweghe has conducted a number of well-known orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Dutch Broadcasting Orchestra, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. Philippe Herreweghe was artistic director of the Festival of Saintes in 1982 and voted European Musician of the Year in 1990. From 1998 to 2002, he was chief conductor of DeFilharmonie (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders), and now holds the title of Hoofddirigent (principal conductor) with the orchestra.
For most of his recording career, Herreweghe has been closely associated with Harmonia Mundi.
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