The Tallis Scholars are entirely devoted to the performance of Renaissance choral music. Through scholarship, musicianship, and the careful cultivation of a distinctive vocal sound, they have established themselves as the leading exponents of that particular repertory, and they have done a great deal to increase general interest in Renaissance music through an increasing catalogue of successful recordings, as well as international concert tours.
The founder and director of The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips, studied Renaissance music with David Wulstan and Denis Arnold at Oxford University. In 1973 he formed The Tallis Scholars from chapel choirs at both Oxford and Cambridge, choosing from among the so-called "choral scholars," who receive tuition wavers for their full-time service to the chapel choirs of their schools. These singers represent the finest choral musicians from their respective institutions, and it is from their traditional title, as well as the name of English composer Thomas Tallis whose music has formed a central part of their repertory, that the group derives its name.
From their inception, The Tallis Scholars have maintained a reputation as one of the greatest a cappella organizations in the world. They are particularly noted for their illumination of the complex web of independent melodic lines that is characteristic of Renaissance music, which in less capable hands can lose its musical cohesion and direction.
A key part of The Tallis Scholars' success has been the dissemination of their recordings on the Gimell label which, in an innovative move, was co-founded by Phillips and Steve C. Smith in 1981 for the sole purpose of recording the group. Having at his disposal this purpose-built record company has allowed Phillips to record the music of lesser-known composers such as Cipriano de Rore, Clemens non Papa, Frei Manuel Cardoso, and Heinrich Isaac in addition to that of the more established masters such as Byrd, Palestrina, and, of course, Thomas Tallis. The selection of repertory for recordings has been carefully managed to balance the familiar with the more obscure, and a number of industry awards -- including the 1987 "Record of the Year" award from Gramophone Magazine and two Diapason d'Or de L'Année awards -- attest to the consistent quality of the results. Other awards include two more Gramophone Awards for "Best Early Music" recordings (1991 and 1994) and a Gramophone/Classic FM People's Choice Award.
Highlights of The Tallis Scholars' performing schedule have included participation in major events, such as the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the death of Palestrina at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, and the celebration of the restoration of Michelangelo's The Last Judgment at the Sistine Chapel.
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 core repertoire. The program includes courses of study based in Oakham in the United Kingdom, Seattle in the United States, and Sydney, 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 thirtieth anniversary was marked in 2010 with a young composers' competition for an a cappella work in four parts.