KS Q&A: Peter Phillips

Director of The Tallis Scholars

If you had to give an aspiring vocal ensemble just one piece of advice, what would it be?

Choose music which the public wants to hear – you may have to bend their minds a bit – and sing it as well as you possibly can.

How you were introduced to ensemble singing?

In the Chapel choir of my school.

What’s the first thing you look at when you open a score for the first time?

The piece as a whole – how the architecture works.

If and when you have to programme a concert, what factors influence you most?

What the promoter has asked for. And then make up an interesting sequence of pieces from that.

How rigidly do you like to keep to a score in performance?

I like to keep to the notes as written; after that a score of renaissance polyphony leaves it entirely up to the performers.

What, for you, are the marks of a great composition for vocal ensembles?

Sympathetic vocal lines, which contribute to a strong atmosphere in performance.

What, in your opinion, makes a great ensemble singer?

Someone who can sing in tune without evident struggle; someone who is prepared to sing with other people and not think only of themselves; and someone who has a beautiful voice.

Do you have any pet-hates when you hear choirs or vocal ensembles perform?

Many, usually to do with self-centred singing from the members. They should remember that ensemble music is chamber music, in the same way that string quartet writing is chamber music, not a vehicle for them to show off.

If you could have had a different career, what do you think it would have been, and why?

I would have gone into the foreign office. I like travelling, meeting people from different cultures and speaking other languages.

Are you able to say why you particularly love choral music?

I love the sound of unaccompanied voices. There is an expressiveness in this sound which does not need instruments.

Do you have a favourite choral composer and, if so, whom and why?

Tallis, fortunately. He always wrote interesting melodies; and did so in more styles than any other composer of the period or, possibly, any period.

Is there a piece for choirs or vocal ensembles you’d like to recommend to us that we might not have heard of before?

Josquin’s Missa Ave maris stella: very user friendly for modern choirs, four voices with SATB ranges, compact, a kind of missa brevis in style and exceptionally beautiful throughout.

Read all the KS Q&As on the Ensemble Hub Dropbox.


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