Search

Polyphonic choir set to perform in the Antarctic after Proms at St Jude’s

PUBLISHED: 17:00 29 June 2016 | UPDATED: 15:47 30 June 2016

The Tallis Scholars. Picture: Eric Richmond

The Tallis Scholars. Picture: Eric Richmond

Archant

Peter Phillips has spent 40 years perfecting the Tallis Scholar’s distinctive rich polyphonic purr to run like a well oiled machine.

Many things about the Tallis Scholars make them one of the world’s great professional choirs, but it’s essentially the sound: a smooth, rich, Rolls-Royce purr that Peter Phillips, their director, has spent forty years perfecting.

And he knows the worth of what he’s done – as audiences will hear when the Scholars sweep into Hampstead Garden Suburb for the Proms at St Jude’s next week.

“We’re the Berlin Philharmonic of the choral world,” he says, in terms that read immodestly but have a certain charm when spoken in his donnish way. With a degree of mischief.

“People take it for granted now”, he says, “but it took some doing. From the start I wanted something strong but agile, capable of wide dynamic range and able to be loud without distortion.

“Any choir can sing softly, but sing loud and the blend disintegrates, voices stick out, vibrato widens, and the tuning goes.

“That the Tallis Scholars actually sing in tune has always been one of our selling points.

“It may not seem like a big deal, but when we started in 1973 it was rare for a group like ours, singing the repertoire we did, to stay in tune.

“I like to think we made a significant contribution to cleaning things up”.

In 1973 Phillips was still an Oxford undergraduate, in love with renaissance polyphony - the music of Palestrina, Tallis, Byrd and Taverner – and spellbound by the way the Clerks of Oxenford and one or two like-minded choirs were resurrecting it, with scholarship and “authenticity”.

Those were the nursery years of what we now call period performance.

Emma Kirkby was its vocal pin-up. Oxbridge was in thrall to people playing shawms in cheesecloth skirts and sandals.

To be new and cutting-edge was to be old and digging into music’s past.

And out of all this came the Tallis Scholars, started by a group of friends who barely knew what they were doing.

“We were 19 and exploring music for the fun of it”, says Phillips. “There was no money, just a sense of pioneering and a shared enthusiasm for obscure composers nobody had heard of”.

Fortunately, there turned out to be a market for obscurity.

Through four decades the Scholars have amassed over 2000 concerts, 60 discs, with countless radio and TV broadcasts.

They’ve performed in every continent except Antarctica - an understandable omission, although one that will be remedied in two years’ time when they go out and premiere a specially commissioned piece by Nico Muhly – to an audience of scientists and penguins.

“It began as a joke”, says Phillips, “because somebody had noticed the Antarctic was about the only place on earth we hadn’t sung, and I thought: OK, let’s see what we can do about that.

“There’s going to be a TV documentary.”

By comparison, St Jude’s will be an easy gig and warmer – with a programme that’s effectively a Tallis Scholars calling-card.

Allegri, Byrd and Tallis are the period-performed heart of it, alongside modern music by John Tavener (with whom the Scholars had a close relationship) and Arvo Part (featured composer on their latest CD), and the premiere of a Miserere setting by a young British composer, Alexander Campkin.

“It’s all very Us, I think”, says Phillips as we take tea in the garden of his house in one of Islington’s more fashionable squares. “It wasn’t fashionable when we moved here”, he protests.

“We led the way”. A lifelong habit.

The Tallis Scholars at St Jude’s, Hampstead Garden Suburb, Friday 1st July, 7.45pm. promsatstjudes.org.uk

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hackney Gazette visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hackney Gazette staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hackney Gazette account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Hackney Stories

Yesterday, 17:36

Michael-James Dent and Chris Jones of Homerton band The Dolce Vita talk about gigging locally and releasing music via cassette, ahead of their show on November 24

Yesterday, 16:00

Clapton will look to bounce back after their eight-game winning streak was brought to an end by league leaders Redbridge in a 2-1 defeat at Oakside.

Yesterday, 15:00

Academy boss would love to see more fans and first-team players at Brisbane Road next week to support youngsters against Sholing

Yesterday, 17:34

London Fields Lido is still unlikely to reopen for “several weeks”, the council has admitted.

Yesterday, 15:33

Staff and guests at Amazon’s trendy London HQ in Shoreditch could soon be treated to the “occasional Champagne breakfast” if a booze licence is granted by Hackney Council.

Yesterday, 14:11

Many of Hackney’s 3,000 families stuck in temporary accommodation have no real prospect of getting an affordable home in the borough, according to a council chief.

Yesterday, 12:00

Leyton Orient will have a new face, or should that be faces, in the dugout this weekend when they host Dover Athletic in the National League on Saturday.

Yesterday, 11:28

DJs and clubbers are fighting to keep Old Street’s Magic Roundabout open after its licence expires at the end of the year.



Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read entertainment

Show Job Lists