The Hilliard Ensemble, founded in 1974 and named after the British miniaturist painter Nicholas Hilliard, is one of the world’s finest vocal chamber ensembles, and is probably unrivaled for its formidable reputation in the fields of both old and new music.
The ensemble’s performing schedule is busy and varied, amounting to some hundred concerts a year. It has a large following in Europe, particularly in Mediterranean and central European countries, and also tours frequently in Japan, the USA, Canada and Australia.
The group’s reputation as an early music ensemble dates from the 1980s and its series of highly successful records for EMI, but from the start the group has paid equal attention to new music. Their 1988 recording of Arvo Pärt’s Passio began a fruitful relationship with both Pärt and the Munich-based recording company, ECM. This continues with their latest recording of a work by Arvo Pärt, Litany, which was released in August 1996. The group has recently commissioned other composers from the Baltic States, including Veljo Tormis and Erkki-Sven Tüür, adding to a rich repertoire of new music written for the Ensemble by Gavin Bryars, Heinz Holliger, John Casken, James MacMillan, Elena Firsova and others. The Hilliard Ensemble has also been involved in various collaborations including one with The Netherlands Wind Ensemble centered on a new work by Cornelis de Bondt.
The Ensemble’s current interests include a long-term project on the 15th century Franco-Flemish mass and a new mass with organ commissioned from Michael Finnissy.
During 1999, following the worldwide success of Officium (on ECM, a collaboration with saxophonist Jan Garbarek), the Hilliard Ensemble renewed its collaboration with Jan Garbarek to coincide with the release of their new joint album Mnemosyne, giving numerous performance all over Europe.