I was given a signed copy of this book by Raymond Choi (founder of HK’s Tallis Vocalis) last summer, and as books that are ‘right up my street’ go, it’s up there.
Peter Phillips, the founder and conductor of the Tallis Scholars (who I had the honour and pleasure of not only m
eeting but also learning from in the form of a Tallis Vocalis rehearsal last autumn), has compiled this wonderful collection of notes spanning the ensemble’s long history.
The chapter ‘Performing Polyphony’ is probably the most valuable to me, and I’ve dipped into it several times since first reading it. Such a wonderful way of reminding myself what the Big Picture is, rather than getting caught up in minutiae of rehearsals (which I still do). It’s a master class on my bookshelf in how to plan, conduct and think about vocal polyphony.
For some lighter stuff, I also strongly recommend the chapter ‘Singers’ Argot’ which is a dictionary full of very funny (if you’re into this sort of thing) terms and stories that have sprung up over the years, including a wonderful anecdote about the time there was a typo in Tallis’s “Spem In Alium”.
The collection of Phillips’ articles written for the Spectator in 2008-9 are wonderful for their honesty. He bemoans the popularity of Allegri’s Miserere to the point where every choir feels it should be in their repertoire, regardless of their capabilities. He takes a pop at the ‘wittering baroque’: “Why do the people of today subscribe so willingly to the artefacts of one of the most cynical and trivial societies civilisation has ever thrown up?” he asks, “round go the interminable sequences… round and round go the recycled harmonies”. It’s such fun to read!