For a group whose name translates as “The Little Beans”, I Fagiolini has put down strong roots since its foundation in 1986, growing to become one of the world’s most successful vocal groups. The ensemble says that its unusual name has been misspelt, mispronounced and misunderstood throughout the world, but one thing about which music-lovers are in no doubt is the fact that this refreshingly lively group of singers can turn its hand to a wide range of repertoire in performances that crackle with energy and vitality.
I Fagiolini was founded at Oxford University in 1986, and within two years had won the UK Early Music Network’s Young Artists’ Competition. Its repertoire of solo-voice ensemble material focuses on Renaissance and contemporary music, and an innovative approach has seen the group staging Handel with masks and Purcell with puppets, and presenting a Theatre of Music project which has included dramatised presentations of The Full Monteverdi (later turned into an internationally successful film) and Tallis in Wonderland.
In 2005 the group was named winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society Ensemble Award. While it treats music with great respect, its approach has always been about enjoyment rather than po-faced historical rectitude. “Pure cabaret,” wrote Early Music Review, of one performance, “this was the sort of entertainment that could bring entirely new audiences to early music.”
I Fagiolini was founded by Robert Hollingworth, who claims Monteverdi and Monty Python as equal influences on his life and work. His informative and relaxed style has set the tone for the group from the beginning. He has produced groundbreaking music-theatre projects for Nederlands Kamerkoor and Opera Zuid, and the theatrical aspect of performance is never far from the surface in his work with I Fagiolini.
The group celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2011 with The Spell (a commission from Orlando Gough), a new semi-staged production of Purcell’s King Arthur with the English Concert, and the hugely successful Decca release of the world premiere recording of Striggio’s newly rediscovered 40-part Mass. The recording won the Early Music category in the 2011 Gramophone Awards and a Diapason d’Or de l’Année, and stayed at the top of the specialist classical chart for nearly four months. The live version was toured to European festivals in 2012, when I Fagiolini also made its Royal Albert Hall Proms debut and released its next album, 1612 Italian Vespers, which was named Gramophone CD of the month.
During its 30th-anniversary year of 2016 the group is giving concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall, in Paris and in Norway, the London and Paris programmes featuring repertoire from its hotly anticipated new Decca release, Amuse-Bouche (April 2016). The recording celebrates the group’s love of French music and includes world premiere recordings of Jean Françaix’s humorous but beautiful Ode à la Gastronomie for 12 voices, Milhaud’s Deux Poèmes and a moving arrangement for piano and voices of the Adagio from Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto by baritone and composer Roderick Williams. Playing the Ravel and Gnossiennes Nos.4–6 by Erik Satie (the 150th anniversary of whose birth is celebrated in 2016) is pianist Anna Markland, winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1982 (and a founder-member of I Fagiolini).
“[I Fagiolini] has carved out a niche for itself exploring some more ‘off-the-wall’ corners of early music in a style that is at once true to the period but communicative to today’s listener.” Daily Telegraph