Jos van Immerseel was born in Antwerp in 1945. He studied piano (Eugène Traey), organ (Flor Peeters), singing (Lucie Frateur) and direction (Daniel Sternefeld) as well as organology, rhetoric and historical fortepiano (autodidact).
Early days – inspirations
His passion for historical keyboard instruments burgeoned after coming into contact with two magnificent instruments at the Antwerp Museum Vleeshuis (Joannes Dulcken – 1747; Conrad Graf – 1826), and with exceptional musicians such as René Jacobs, the Kuijken brothers, Jaap Schröder, Anner Bijlsma, Paul Van Nevel, Guy de Mey and Paul Dombrecht. Reinforced by his fascination for organ and vocal music, these interests naturally guided van Immerseel to the field of early music. Shortly thereafter, he founded his own ensemble (Collegium Musicum, 1964-1968) that experimented with music from the renaissance and the baroque era on period instruments. Still on the same track, Jos van Immerseel embarked upon harpsichord studies with Kenneth Gilbert and carried off the palm at the first edition of the Paris Harpsichord Competition (1973) after a unanimous decision of both the jury and the audience. Van Immerseel turned out to be the only competitor rigorously choosing to play the historical harpsichord, thereby starting a new chapter of the French harpsichord school’s history.
Soloist – chamber musician – conductor – professor
Today, he is recognized worldwide as a remarkable soloist and performs in the most prestigious concert halls worldwide. He is renowned as a chamber musician too, performing regularly with musical companions as Midori Seiler (violin), Claire Chevallier (piano), Sergei Istomin (violoncello), Lisa Shklyaver (clarinet) and Thomas Bauer (baritone).
Van Immerseel has built up a parallel career as a conductor. Specialised at first in baroque repertoire (with the landmark performances of Monteverdi’s Orfeo in 1977 as one of many highlights), he shifted his interests to other periods, times and places – culminating in projects with music by Liszt, Poulenc and Gershwin. As a guest conductor he worked with the Radio-Kamerorkest, the Nederlands Kamerorkest, Nederlands Kamerkoor, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Wiener Akademie, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Tafelmusik Toronto, the Mozarteum Salzburg and Musica Florea Prague. But since 1987 Jos van Immerseel’s name is mentioned in one breath with that of Anima Eterna Brugge: the period orchestra that was established as a musical laboratory, and in the meantime can boast upon a track record of 25 years and a legendary status that rivals that of its founder.
Jos van Immerseel has taught at music institutes around the world: from 1982 to 1985 he joined Ton de Leeuw as an artistic director at the Sweelinck Conservatorium Amsterdam, he was professor at the Conservatoire National Supérieure in Paris and visiting professor at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, the Kunitachi-University Tokio and the Indiana University Bloomington. He conducts masterclasses from Weimar to Fukuoka and has recently initiated an Anima Eterna Brugge Master Class Series that will henceforward take place yearly in Bruges.
Residences – recordings
As even the most eager of travellers need a place to come home to, Jos van Immerseel and Anima cherish their structural partners: the Concertgebouw Brugge – where they have been in residence since 2003 – , the Opéra de Dijon, that hosts the orchestra as ‘ensemble associé’, and Beethovenfest Bonn, where the orchestra will take up its residency from 2015 onwards. Testifying to van Immerseel’s impressive career, is a back catalogue comprising more than 100 recordings – exclusively and solely on or with period instruments – with labels as Accent, Channel Classics and Sony. Since 2002, he curates the Collection Anima Eterna for the Parisian label Zig-Zag Territoires (Outhere): a series that follows his expeditions into music history, from uncovered treasure to refurbished masterpiece. Upcoming release in 2014 is the long-anticipated live-recording of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Among the many awards won by van Immerseel and his orchestra are the Diaposon d’Or, Le Choc du Monde de la Musique and FFFF de Télérama; on a personal level, he was granted the price of the Musikfest Bremen for his outstanding career.
Music first – instruments
Musician, conductor, researcher, teacher: Jos van Immerseel lives and breathes music, always walking the line that connects musicological theory with musical praxis. No doctrine of ‘authentic performance practice’ here, but a logical approach that uses the composer’s artistic vocabulary as the foundation of a present-day reading. Of equal importance in van Immerseel’s view, are the instruments at the disposal of a composer: they convey a wealth of information concerning style, tempi, dynamics, acoustics and balance. Small wonder that a unique collection of instruments figures at the core of his activities: an exquisite selection of keyboard instruments, spanning more than 3 centuries and a wide range of types and variants – from clavichord to Hammond organ. As do autograph manuscripts, original editions and other primary sources, they guide van Immerseel to the immediate vicinity of a composer and his music: a necessary premise without compromise.