Peter Phillips (conductor)
Peter Phillips (born 15 Oct 1953) is a British choral conductor and musicologist. He was the founder of The Tallis Scholars 1973 and of Gimell Records (with Steve Smith) in 1980. Through his work with The Tallis Scholars and many ensembles outside the UK he has spearheaded a revolution in choral sound.
Career with the Tallis Scholars
Phillips was born in Southampton and educated at Winchester College (1967 – 71), the RSCM (1972) and St John's College, Oxford (Organ Scholar 1972 – 1975). He studied music with Hugh Macdonald, Denis Arnold and David Wulstan. He subsequently taught at Oxford University, Trinity College of Music and the Royal College of Music in London (where he directed the Chamber Choir is succession to David Willcocks), but had resigned all these posts by 1988 in order to pursue a full-time career in conducting.
Phillips's first concert with the Tallis Scholars took place in the Church of St. Mary Magdalen, Oxford on November 3, 1973. The group was made up of choral scholars (hence the use of the word 'Scholars' in the title) and layclerks from the leading Oxbridge choral foundations. From the start Phillips aimed to produce a distinctive sound, influenced by choirs he admired, in particular the Clerkes of Oxenford. However the repertoire he chose was idiosyncratic, based in his desire to explore neglected corners of the polyphonic repertories, continental as much as English. This first concert included music by Obrecht, Ockeghem and Lassus. After the foundation of Gimell Records in 1980, the Tallis Scholars have gone on to fill many gaps in the recording catalogue, making discs devoted to such relatively unknown composers as Obrecht, Ockeghem, Cardoso, White, Clemens, Gombert and Mouton. Since winning the Gramophone Record of the Year Award in 1987, the Tallis Scholars have been recognised as perhaps the world's leading ensemble in interpreting renaissance polyphony.
Phillips first met the composer John Tavener in 1977, which led to a life-long friendship. For many years Tavener was the only living composer to write for The Tallis Scholars, a connection which resulted in such masterpieces as the Ikon of Light, the Lords Prayer (1999), Let not the Prince be silent and The Requiem Fragments. In more recent years Phillips has commissioned Eric Whitacre, Gabriel Jackson, Nico Muhly, Ivan Moody, John Woolrich, Matthew Martin, Christopher Willcock, Michael Nyman; and in 2014 made a disc entirely dedicated to Arvo Pärt's tintinnabuli style.
Peter Phillips gave his first Promenade concert in 1988, since when he has appeared seven more times, always with the Tallis Scholars, but in 2007 also with the BBC Singers, when the two groups joined forces to give the first modern performance of Striggio's 60-part Mass Ecco si beato giorno. Most recently Phillips and The Tallis Scholars appeared at the Proms on 4th August 2014 to help mark the exact anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1, with a Requiem written for them by John Tavener, televised on BBC 4.
In 1990 Phillips was the subject of a South Bank Show, introduced by Melvyn Bragg. It followed the course of renaissance polyphony through England and the Netherlands and was entitled ‘A Personal Odyssey’.
In 2013 he directed the The Tallis Scholars in a 99-concert year of events, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the group. Amongst other countries they visited New Zealand for the first time, Australia for the seventh time, Japan for the 14th time, and the US for the 61st.
Other conducting work
In 1985 Phillips was invited to conduct the Chapelle Royale of Paris (by Philippe Herreweghe) , and the Netherlands Chamber Choir, which sparked a life-long interest in working with groups trained outside the Anglican choral tradition. These invitations also promoted in Phillips an interest in European culture, cuisines and languages. He has owned property in Paris since 1989 and given interviews in French, German, Italian and Spanish. He is also a student of Arabic (in which he has not given an interview). To date The Tallis Scholars have given more than two-thirds of their 2000 concerts outside the UK.
Phillips subsequently worked with the Finnish Radio Choir, Markell's Voices (Novosibirsk) and the Collegium Vocale of Gent (again at the invitation of Philippe Herreweghe). He started a collaboration with the BBC Singers in 2003, with whom he has now appeared in nearly 20 productions. He works regularly with The Tudor Choir of Seattle, the Choeur de Chambre de Namur, Intrada (Moscow), El Leon de Oro (Oviedo), and Musica Reservata (Barcelona). In 2013 he started a new collaboration with the Netherlands Chamber Choir, featuring Brumel’s 12-voice Missa Et ecce terrae motus.
In 2000 Peter Phillips and David Woodcock set up the first Tallis Scholars Summer School in Oakham. This was followed in 2005 by an extension in Seattle (US), and in 2007 by one in Sydney (Australia). He has also been involved with similar courses in Rimini, Evora and Barcelona. He has lectured on the John Hall pre-University course in Venice since 1981. In August 2105 he will lead a new course for 16 - 25-year-olds at Winchester College, entitled Tallis Scholars at Winchester.
Phillips began an association with Merton College Chapel in 1974 when, as an undergraduate, he directed Tallis's 'Why fum'th in fight' as a prelude to a performance of Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. The Tallis Scholars recorded regularly in Merton Chapel between 1976 and 1987, returning permanently in 2005. In 2006, with the help of Jessica Rawson and Simon Jones, Phillips established a new choral foundation at the College. This choir sang its first services under Phillips and Benjamin Nicholas in October 2008, since when it has toured widely, made a disc every year and given many concerts. In 2011 the Guardian was already describing this choir as 'outstanding'.
In 2014 Phillips helped to establish the first London International Choral Competition at St John's Smith Square. Among the judges were John Rutter, Emma Kirkby, Alastair Hume, Mark Williams and James O'Donnell. The featured composer was John Tavener.
Phillips has recently become a founding trustee of the Muze Trust, a charity designed to help with musical education in Zambia. At the invitation of Paul Kelly, the founder of the Trust, he visited Lusaka in 2010, directing Vox Zambesi in a concert and a recording. The Trust has recently acquired its own premises in Lusaka.
In addition to his performance based work, Phillips has published specialist articles and new editions of rare music which have helped renaissance polyphony become more widely established. In addition he has written a regular column for the Spectator magazine on all aspects of classical music since January 1983, amounting to over 450 pieces. In 1989 he also wrote a cricket column.
In 1995 he became the owner and publisher of the Musical Times - the oldest continuously published music journal in the world. He has also written for the Times Literary Supplement, the Times, the Guardian, the Musical Times, the Royal Academy Magazine, the BBC Music Magazine and the Evening Standard.
Phillips is a keen follower of cricket and a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club. He is also a member of the Chelsea Arts Club. In 1986 he became a qualified pilot, in the hope of taming his fear of turbulence; and in 2007 he bought the Créole, a 70-foot wooden motor yacht built in 1930 and moored in Seattle.
Awards and Honours
In 2005, Peter Phillips was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture, a decoration intended to honour individuals who have contributed to the understanding of French culture in the world.
In 2008 he was made a Reed Rubin Director of Music at Merton College Oxford; and in 2010 a Bodley Fellow of the College.
With the Tallis Scholars he has received four Gramophone Awards (in 1987, 1991, 1994 and 2005); two Diapason d’Or de l’Année (in 1989 and 2012); and three Grammy nominations (in 2002, 2009 and 2010). Their 1980 recording of Allegri’s Miserere was said by the BBC Music Magazine to be one of the 50 greatest recordings of all time.
In 2009 the Tallis Scholars were voted by Early Music Today the fourth most influential early group in the history of the genre, after the instrumental ensembles of David Monrow, John Eliot Gardiner and Christopher Hogwood. In 2013 they were voted into the Gramophone’s Hall of Fame – about 120 names from the entire history of classical recording – the only early music group to be so listed.
- Fabrice Fitch. "Phillips, Peter (ii)." In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Retrieved 21/09/2009.
- "The Tallis Scholars". http://www.thetallisscholars.co.uk/. Retrieved 30/07/2014.
- "Gimell Records". http://www.gimell.com/. Retrieved 30/07/2014.
- "2013 Hall Of Fame". http://www.gramophone.co.uk/halloffame. Gramophone. Retrieved 30/07/2014.
- English Sacred Music 1549-1649 (Gimell, 1991)
- What We Really Do (Musical Times: Ist edition 2003)
- What We Really Do (Musical Times: 2nd edition 2013)
- Gramophone Magazine (September 1994): Cover Feature
- Early Music Today (October/ November 2009 pg. 15)