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Dame Carolyn Emma Kirkby, DBE (b. February 26, 1949) is an Englishmarker soprano singer and one of the world's most renowned early music specialists. She attended Sherborne School For Girlsmarker in Dorset and was a classics student at Somerville Collegemarker, Oxfordmarker, and an English teacher before developing a career as a soloist. She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2007 Queen's Birthday Honours list.

Education and Early Career

Emma Kirkby was educated at Sherborne School For Girlsmarker in Dorset. Her father was Geoffrey John Kirkby, a Royal Navy Officer.

Originally, Kirkby had no expectations of becoming a professional singer. As a classics student at Oxfordmarker and schoolteacher she sang for pleasure in choirs and small groups, always feeling at home most in Renaissance and Baroque repertoire. The fact that her voice was not a particularly large one meant that her potential as a soloist was not recognised immediately.

Kirkby was a founding member of the Taverner Choir, and in 1973 began her long association with the Consort of Musicke. She took part in the early Decca Florilegium recordings with both the Consort of Musicke and the Academy of Ancient Music, at a time when most college-trained sopranos were not seeking a sound appropriate for early music instruments. She therefore had to find her own approach, with enormous help from Jessica Cash in London, and from the directors, fellow singers and instrumentalists with whom she has worked over the years.

Kirkby has built long term relationships with chamber groups and orchestras, in particular London Baroque, the Freiburger Barockorchester, L’Orfeo (of Linz) and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and now with some of the younger groups – the Palladian Ensemble and Florilegium.She is also the patron of Bristol Cathedral Girl's Choir.

Recordings

Kirkby has made well over a hundred recordings of all kinds, from sequences of Hildegard of Bingen to madrigals of the Italian and English Renaissance, cantatas and oratorios of the Baroque, works of Mozart, Haydn and J. C. Bach. Recent recordings include: Handel: Opera Arias and Overtures 2 for Hyperion, J.S.Bach wedding cantatas for Decca, Bach Cantatas 82a and 199 for Carus; and four projects for BIS: with London Baroque, one of Handel motets and one of Christmas music by Scarlatti, Bach and others; with the Royal Academy Baroque Orchestra the first recording of the newly-rediscovered Gloria by Handel; and with the Romantic Chamber Group of London, Chanson d'amour, an album of songs by the American composer Amy Beach, who died in 1944.

More recent recordings: an anthology, Classical Kirkby, devised and performed with Anthony Rooley, on the BIS label, 2002; Cantatas by Cataldo Amodei, also for BIS, 2004; with Fretwork, consort songs by William Byrd, for Harmonia Mundi USA, 2005.; Scarlatti Stabat Mater with Daniel Taylor, for ATMA, 2006; Honey from the Hive, songs of John Dowland, with Anthony Rooley, for BIS, 2006: and Musique and Sweet Poetrie, also for BIS, 2007; lute songs from Europe with Jakob Lindberg.

In 1999 Kirkby was voted Artist of the Year by Classic FM Radio listeners and in November 2000 she received the Order of the British Empire. BBC Music Magazine in April 2007 published a survey of critics to nominate “The 20 greatest sopranos”, controversially placing Kirkby at number 10

Despite all her recording activity, Kirkby prefers live concerts, especially the pleasure of performing favourite programmes with colleagues.

References

  1. Rushdie and Eavis lead honours, BBC News, 15 June, 2007
  2. Are these the 20 best sopranos of the recorded era?, Guardian, 14 March, 2007


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