Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe, in addition to studying piano with Marcel Gazelle at the Conservatory in Ghent, concurrently studied medicine and psychiatry at the University of Ghent. During that time, he founded the Collegium Vocale of Ghent (1969). Nikolaus Harnocourt 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 Bach 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 Elysees 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 Europeen (founded 1989) concentrated on Renaissance polyphony, while the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees (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, "poupee 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 twenty percent more players to form the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees. This way I can conduct a large repertoire while maintaining the organic integrity of the groups as much as possible."
Herreweghe has conducted many prestigious ensembles including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Lyon Opera Orchestra, Concerto Koln, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ensemble Musique Oblique, and the Orchestra of St. Lukes in New York City. Herreweghe assumed the position of music director of the Festival of Saintes in 1982. The conductor, nominated for Musical Personality of the Year (1990), has received many more awards including European Musician of the Year (1991), Cultural Ambassador of Flanders with his Collegium Chorale (1993), Doctor Honoris Causa of the Leuven Catholic University (1997), and the order of Officer of Arts and Letters (1994). Herreweghe assumed the post of music director of the Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra in 1997.
Widely regarded as one of the cultural landscape's greatest champions, Philippe Herreweghe has brought a dignity and integrity to the arts that seems timeless. Confidently honest with regards to 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. Each time the conductor opens a score, he ponders how the music inside should be approached. Herreweghe's recordings, a discography that numbers more than 60, is highly regarded and commended for its sincerity.