The Tallis Scholars have become one of the leading a cappella choral groups in the world, specializing in Renaissance sacred music. The group was founded in 1973 by choral conductor Peter Phillips who, coincidentally, bears the name of a noted English Renaissance composer (1560-1628). The aim was to create an ensemble that, through purity of intonation and impeccable balance, would reveal the beauty of the complex polyphonic textures of Renaissance music. The group takes its name from Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585), a leading English composer of the Renaissance era, famous in particular for one of the most elaborate of all a cappella compositions, Spem in Alium, which is written for eight five-part choirs.
The Tallis Scholars quickly came to be popular on the busy English early music scene. In 1981 Phillips and Steven C. Smith co-founded a record label, Gimell Records, specifically to record the Tallis Scholars. The label is now one of the Philips labels, a part of the Polygram Group.
Becoming famous for their beautiful, blended sound, in which all the strands of the polyphony can be followed, the Tallis Scholars have toured extensively. The group undertakes at least two tours a year in the United States, and tours extensively in the Far East every 18 months. They appear in Europe every month of the year when they are not on tour. The Tallis Scholars were invited to sing at the Sistine Chapel at ceremonies honoring the restoration of Michelangelo's Last Judgment. In February 1994, they performed at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Palestrina, who had been a choirboy and, later, music director in that church.
The group has made over 35 recordings for Gimell. They have recorded not only the music of Tallis, Byrd, and Palestrina, but lesser-known Renaissance composers such as Cipriano de Rore, Heinrich Isaac, Clemens Non Papa, and Frei Manuel Cardoso. In 1987 The Tallis Scholars' disc of two parody masses by Josquin received the Gramophone magazine Record of the Year Award, the first time an early music recording had been so honored. The group has also won two Diapason d'Or de l'Année awards.
The Tallis Scholars Summer Schools were established in 2000 for amateur singers, offering a program led by Phillips and other members of the ensemble concentrating on their repertoire. The program includes courses of study based in Oakham in the United Kingdom, Seattle in the United States, and Sydney in Australia. The Tallis Scholars perform regularly on radio and television, and their performances from the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in 2007 and 2008 were well received. The ensemble's 30th anniversary was marked in 2010 with a young composers' competition for an a cappella work in four parts. ~ Joseph Stevenson