Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe concurrently studied medicine and psychiatry at the University of Ghent, in addition to studying piano with Marcel Gazelle at the Conservatory in Ghent. During that time, he founded the Collegium Vocale of Ghent (1969). Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt took notice of the young artist and promptly invited him and his newly organized ensemble to collaborate with them in a recording project that would document the entire catalog of J.S. Bach's cantatas. Continuing his education at the conservatory, Herreweghe studied the harpsichord with Johan Huys and organ with Gabriel Verschraegen.
Ambitious, to say the least, Herreweghe formed numerous ensembles that each respectively acted as a performance vehicle for specific genres and periods of composition, resulting in numerous recordings for Harmonia Mundi. His Ensemble Vocale Elysées specialized and concentrated on the work of Bach and his predecessors. The Ensemble La Chapelle Royale (founded with Philippe Beaussant in 1977) focused on music from the French Baroque, as well as vocal scores from the Classical and Romantic eras. The Ensemble Vocale Européen (founded 1989) concentrated on Renaissance polyphony, while the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées (founded 1991), an original instrument ensemble, performed literature from the Classical and Romantic periods. Herreweghe divides his time in thirds and spends one with early music, one with the Romantic repertoire, and the last third with contemporary compositions. In an interview with La Scena Musicale (November 1997), the conductor described his ensembles as a, "poupée russe, you know those Russian dolls that fit one inside the other. My core Baroque instruments group for Bach and German repertoire is Collegium Vocale. For bigger works and French Baroque we enlarge it to make La Chapelle Royale. For even bigger classical and romantic works we add about 20 percent more players to form the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées. This way I can conduct a large repertoire while maintaining the organic integrity of the groups as much as possible."
Widely regarded as one of the greatest champions of culture, Philippe Herreweghe has brought a dignity and integrity to the arts that seems timeless. Confident about his own opinions, Herreweghe programs the repertoire that interests him, and overlooks that which does not. He tirelessly explores the work of Bach, performing many works numerous times, but approaches each effort with a studious dedication and genuine curiosity.