The American harpsichordist, Skip Sempé, studied music, musicology, organology and the history of art at the Oberlin Conservatory in the USA, and completed his training in Europe with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam. His distinctive harpsichord playing, musicianship and interpretive flair were quickly noticed by Reinhard Goebel and William Christie, who encouraged him to remain in Europe and embark on his own pioneering reconsideration of well and lesser-known repertoire ranging from 1500-1750.
Skip Sempé is at the forefront of today's musical personalities in Renaissance and Baroque music.In 1986, he founded a Baroque and early music ensemble he named Capriccio Stravagante, an ensemble of from three to thirty players who share his dedication to strong sonorities, free expression in interpretation and embellishment of their parts, positive and dramatic audience presence, and Franco-Latin temperament, elements Sempé believes are the heart of Renaissance and much Baroque music. His growing fame as a creative basso continuo accompaniment player (along with the strong colors produced by the cellist and other players who join with doubling the bass line) led him to create extensions of Capriccio Stravagante, which now incorporates the chamber ensemble, the Capriccio Stravagante Orchestra, the Capriccio Stravagante Renaissance Orchestra and Capriccio Stravagante Opera. The diverse vocal and instrumental formations of Capriccio Stravagante feature the finest European, American and Canadian musicians. The combination of nonchalance and power which are the trademarks of Skip Sempé and Capriccio Stravagante's performances have been rewarded with outstanding critical praise worldwide.
As a solo performer, Skip Sempé has focused on developing a superb sense of idiomatic harpsichord touch and a finely tuned ear for achieving variation in the instrument's sonority. Performing and recording on the world's most prestigious harpsichords, made by Ruckers, Skowroneck, Kennedy and Sidey, Skip Sempé is particularly known for his interpretations of the French classical harpsichord literature including Chambonnieres, Jean-Henri d'Anglebert, Forqueray, Louis and François Couperin and Rameau, for his adventurous and ground-breaking Bach and Scarlatti, and for the earlier virginalist repertoire of Byrd and his contemporaries. Solo performances from Seattle to Tokyo - including La Roque d'Antheron, dedication concerts for the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Chateau de Versailles - as well as master-classes for Bachfest Leipzig, the Berkeley Early Music Festival, McGill University and the University of Montreal have attracted a particularly enthusiastic following. Recent prizewinning recordings include "Pavana - The Virgin Harpsichord", featuring Elizabethan music for one, two and three harpsichords with his colleagues Olivier Fortin and Pierre Hantaï.
Skip Sempé has played (as a soloist or accompanist or as leader of Capriccio Stravagante) at London's Wigmore Hall, the Athens Concert Hall, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and major venues in Scandinavia, the USA, Canada, France, the UK, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Holland. Festival appearances include Aldeburgh, Barcelona, Aranjuez, Montpellier, Nimes, Montreux, Schleswig-Holstein, Boston, Utrecht, Bremen, and the London Lufthansa Festival.
Skip Sempé combines the rare synthesis of uncompromising musical moderator and admired virtuoso performer. He is in constant demand as a recording artist, having succeded Gustav Leonhardt for the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label and Jordi Savall for Astrée. As a solo harpsichordist or as a basso continuo player of infinite finesse with Capriccio Stravagante, he has assured the ongoing traditions of those pioneers and vast repertoires with more than two dozen prizewinning recordings. They document his dedication to strategic planning of repertoire, artist and programming, as well as featuring new and important collaborators such as Guillemette Laurens, Maria Bayo, Jay Bernfeld, Mike Fentross, Manfredo Kraemer, Olivier Fortin, Julien Martin, Josh Cheatham, Chanticleer and the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montreal. With special regard for his recording techniques, in production as well as post-production, The New Grove has written that Sempé strives "to transfer the spontaneity of a live performance to the recorded medium".
Among the distinctions Skip Sempé has received for his recordings are the Diapason d' Or de l'année, the Choc du Monde de la Musique de l'année, Grand Prix du Disque de l' Academie du Disque Francais, Gramophone Critic's Choice, Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, Goldberg 5 Stars, Telerama ffff, Opera International 4 croches, Stereo Review Best of the Month, Penguin Guide Yearbook Award, Top 10 Classics USA, Gramophone Editor's Choice, 10 de Repertoire, 10 de Classica, CD Classica Scelte d' Editore, and a Grammy Award Nomination for the debut recording of the Capriccio Stravagante Orchestra.