Hesperion XXI is the leading early music organization of the Iberian peninsula. It is a small mixed ensemble of about 12 players and singers and varies somewhat depending on the repertory chosen.
The founders of the group were bowed string instrument player Jordi Savall, vocalist Montserrat Figueras, plucked string instrument player Hopkinson Smith, and flutist/percussionist Lorenzo Alpert. Savall has been the musical director of Hesperion since the beginning.
Hesperion XX made its first appearances in 1974. Hespera, the Greek word for "West," (and for the planet Venus as the Evening Star, which is only seen in the Western sky) is the root of "Hesperia," a term denoting the two "western" peninsulas of Europe -- Italy and Iberia; an inhabitant thereof was called an "Hesperio." The "XX" in the group's name related to the musicians' goal of presenting the music to listeners of the twentieth century in a way designed to appeal to and educate them. The name was altered to Hesperion XXI with the coming of the new century.
However, the name did not reflect a geographic limitation on the sources of their music. Although the group has always had Spanish and Portuguese music as a centerpiece of its repertory, it plays music from the rest of Europe as well -- including Dowland, Tye, Bach, Scheidt, Purcell, and Rosenmüller, among many others -- and even Asia and the Americas.
From the beginning, Hesperion was known for its lively, dynamic performances. Its success and Savall's presence on the Basle Conservatory faculty soon allowed it to expand its membership to include a full consort of viols and recorders, transverse flute, cornett, trombones, and keyboards.
The group has performed in dozens of countries in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, and in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. It is a frequent guest artist at major music festivals of the world. In 1987, the members of Hesperion XX became the core of a larger formation, La Capella Reial de Catalunya (Royal Chapel Choir of Catalonia) and, in 1989, the Baroque orchestra Le Concert des Nations. Both groups enjoyed a growth of success and accomplishment similar to that of the original Hesperion. Meanwhile, Hesperion XXI continues to give about 100 concerts annually, often mixing the music of different cultures or including a narrative based on literature or a historical event.
Hesperion has recorded on the Alia Vox (its own label), Philips, Archiv, Astrée/Auvidis, Fontalis, and EMI labels, and has won several significant recording prizes.