Interview with Peter Phillips of the Tallis Scholars

Interview with Peter Phillips of the Tallis Scholars

September 19, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington, DC.>>Nick Brown: Good evening,
ladies and gentlemen. Welcome. Thank you for
joining us this evening at the Library of Congress. My name is Nicholas Brown. I’m a music specialist
and one of the producers of the Library’s Concert Series. We’re very pleased to have with
us tonight the Tallis Scholars who don’t need much
of an introduction because I’m sure we
all know how important and significant their work has
been over the last several decades. And for you especially we have a
treat and that is their director and founder, Peter Phillips, who will be spending a few moments
preconcert with us here to talk about the work of the Tallis
Scholars, and we’ll hopefully get into some of their really
significant groundbreaking work in the realm of recordings and also
developing their own record label, which is of course was very
novel back then, and now it seems like everyone’s copying you. So the basic format is we’ll
spend some time chatting up here. I have some questions for
Peter and then we’ll open it up to a Q and A towards the end. And without further ado,
we will just jump into it. Peter, tonight is your debut
at the Library of Congress.>>Peter Phillips: It is.>>Nick Brown: Which
is exciting for us and hopefully exciting for you too.>>Peter Phillips: Yes.>>Nick Brown: What has been
your experience of touring in the United States over the
many tours that you’ve had?>>Peter Phillips: Yes,
well, this is our 68th tour to North America but
basically to the US. This is our 32nd concert in DC,
even though it’s our first here. A lot of those were in the Foger
Shakespeare Library, actually. Quite a long time ago now. So I feel I know DC well. But so the question
really, I suppose, is how have the audiences changed? Is that –>>Nick Brown: Yes, sure.>>Peter Phillips: Yes. I can’t remember. The first tour was in 1981 when
we were all very much younger. And I just don’t remember
what the — I mean, there always seemed to be a
really enthusiastic response anyway, that this music is much loved
here and treated with respect. And that’s always been the case. And I’ve been — what
I’ve liked very much is that I felt I had free range to
choose music that I wanted to do and that you would like to
come and hear it basically. So I’ve experimented with
a lot of repertoire here, whereas in other countries
I can’t necessarily do that. So thank you very much
for that opportunity, because one of the
delights for me is that the Renaissance period is
actually a big period of music, which a lot of people
don’t know very well. And I’ve just really enjoyed
roaming through it, you know, really without anyone
telling me not to or wish that I was just doing the
Allegri Miserere in every concert or I don’t know whatever
— you know. I mean, that does happen
in places but not here. So it’s been great. It really has.>>Nick Brown: Have you seen the
demographics of the audiences change at all over the years,
maybe in specific cities?>>Peter Phillips: No, I
think when we — I don’t know. No, I think the average age
has remained very much the same actually. I mean, children tend
not to come to this, unless it’s got a really
catchy Christmas title. And then they’re always
disappointed, because we’re not doing
what they expect. So that’s not really — though I
have had children come up, you know, at the end, and they’ve sat there
silent for two hours, enthralled — genuinely, I think, rather
than being told not to move. Yes, I mean, but then I don’t
know sort of up to sort of 30 — not so many people, I think. But after that, I think — I’d
say it’s grouped in the 30s or 40, 50 range probably and
has remained like that.>>Nick Brown: In your current
and most recent tours of the US, have you ended up in cities
that you had not performed in before, or is it –>>Peter Phillips: All the time.>>Nick Brown: Oh, really? How about on this tour?>>Peter Phillips: Well, on this tour I’ve never
been to Harrisonburg.>>Nick Brown: Where is that?>>Peter Phillips: No idea. [ Laughter ]>>Nick Brown: Sorry
for anyone from there. I’m from up north so –>>Peter Phillips: Every
tour there’s somewhere. Laramie, Wyoming —
that’s quite good. Yes. Makes you think. Well, actually the problem with
Laramie, Wyoming is that it’s so high up that we find it hard to
breathe properly when we’re singing. Let alone conducting, certainly,
but [inaudible], anyway, I mean, there are all — lots of
different experiences, yeah.>>Nick Brown: Just
out of curiosity, and this is going a bit far afield,
the different venues you perform in, in the UK and maybe
London specifically, what kinds of things do you
do differently to prepare for performances in
the different venues? For example, Wigmore Hall versus
Cadogan Hall versus Albert Hall, if you’ve had anything
there recently.>>Peter Phillips: We have, yeah. Well, I mean, these are
vastly different venues. And we really have to adapt
to a lot of different spaces. And certainly the difference
between Cadogan Hall and the Royal Albert Hall
— I mean, you could — don’t know how many Cadogan Halls
you can fit into the Albert Hall, but it must be sort of like 50. It’s a sort of — if you stand
on the stage there and you look at the audience, they’re
about half a mile away. I mean, it’s just incredible. And there’s nothing
you can do about it. I mean, you have to — you can’t — if you over-sing, it’s
not a good idea obviously. If you panic, it’s not a good idea. But I think just — you
just do what you do. There’s nothing you can
do with the Albert Hall. The audience have to get used to how
far away they are from the stage, that’s basically what it is. Whereas in Cadogan Hall, the
danger is that it’s going to be too loud for everybody. So we have to sort
of tailor down a bit. But then there are those — I
mean, there’s also the difference in acoustical properties. I mean, there are buildings like
cathedral buildings which tend to have quite a lot of reverberation
but it’s sort of not localized. It’s sort of all round. So in those buildings,
we can relax in the sense that that the building will probably
take the sound and round it. So it makes our lives
a little bit easier. But they also make our
lives more difficult in that we can’t hear
each other so well. So the ensemble gets a bit
more difficult to control, and I have to be very, very
precise with where the beat is, because that’s when
people get lost, basically. And then there are those buildings that are huge buildings
but totally dry. I mean, bone dry, you
know, there’s nothing. The sound stops in your throat. Those are awful places. But I mean, they can
be secular or sacred. In our experience, there’s
not much difference. And people who say to us, “You
should always do this music in a sacred space,” I don’t
agree with them, necessarily. I mean, there are fantastic
symphony halls built to very modern specifications
of acoustical clarity — like the Birmingham Symphony Hall, where we’re singing
this time next week — which are just fantastic to sing in. They’re so encouraging
and beautifully laid out to the audience, so that
audience are comfortable too — not always the case in cathedrals. I don’t know. Everyone has their own take on that. Yeah.>>Nick Brown: Could you tell us
a bit about the founding of Gimell and also maybe what
some of your goals were and if those goals
have been achieved over the course of its longevity?>>Peter Phillips: Yes, certainly
the goals have been achieved in that we’ve been able to just
record what we wanted to record and to experiment with repertoire
in a way that a big record label in the old days would never
have allowed us to do. They would — there wasn’t
enough famous stuff basically. So we — I mean, the first
record we ever made was for EMI, and that had the Allegri on it. Well, you can’t record the Allegri
over and over and over again, obviously, because it’s
diminishing returns. But with Gimell we were able to — we sold enough copies right from
the start to finance, experiment; we could experiment, take
risks, explore new music. And so, yes. And it started in 1980,
because nobody else wanted it. So I mean, actually we
did that EMI record, and it was a great success actually. But that was it. And we came up with another
idea and, no, it was no good. They had to sell thousands and
thousands of copies every day. And of course, what we’ve done is
sell thousands — tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands copies
of some of those discs over a period of 30 years. But the record — the big record
companies never had the tolerance for that.>>Nick Brown: What kind
of medium were you using? Were you originally with CDs
or had you started with vinyl?>>Peter Phillips: No,
we started with vinyl. And it was very difficult. This was in 1980 to
about 1984 when vinyl — everyone had got enough
vinyls in their lives and in their houses actually,
because they’re very heavy. And those shelves of vinyls. I heard of people’s floors
collapsing under the weight of them. Anyway by about 1982,
everyone had had enough of it. And then we made our first digital
recording which wasn’t for CD, but the digits were
available in ’83. And then the first CDs became — were invented in ’84,
I think it was. And we were very quick onto them,
because we saw the potential.>>Nick Brown: And now in this
climate of digital streaming and download and that kind of
business, how are you handling that from a business perspective?>>Peter Phillips: It’s disastrous. I mean, people are not
buying CDs anymore. And there’s nothing to
replace the income from CDs. Downloading is okay,
but it’s not nearly as good; and also it’s dying off.>>Nick Brown: I saw today the UK
numbers for November had vinyl sales above digital downloads for
the first time, which is wild. Yeah.>>Peter Phillips: That is wild.>>Nick Brown: And it was like a
four-fold increase in vinyl sales from one year ago, on a monthly
basis, which is pretty interesting.>>Peter Phillips: There are a lot
of people out there who would love to think that vinyl is coming back. Maybe you’re one of those.>>Nick Brown: No, no, no, no, no. I have enough already.>>Peter Phillips: But, well,
the immediate problem is that CDs are not selling. And the substitute that’s
killed the CD market off used to be okay and is now also falling. But streaming is the thing. So — and we get almost
no revenue from it. It’s really serious. But we simply have to change
the business model, I suppose. I mean, we can’t pay
the fees to the singers or go to the interesting places
we used to go to, to record in, because we haven’t got the money. So we’ve got to find the
money from some other way. And the symphony orchestras
are doing it by financing from concert revenue, so the whole
thing is wrapped into one promotion.>>Nick Brown: Do you handle
distribution internally within Gimell, or do you
work with partners for that?>>Peter Phillips: No, we work
entirely with Hyperion actually. And in this country, Harmonia Mundi. But they also have
gone — basically gone. You know, those record
shops have gone, the distributors are cracking up. It’s a terrible scene out there.>>Nick Brown: It is.>>Peter Phillips: It’s not
the end of the world, though, because I notice every
group is making records. I mean, there are more
records than ever. No one’s buying them, but groups
are making lots and lots of records.>>Nick Brown: We have a nuclear
bunker filled with them, so, out in Virginia, at our National
Audio/Visual Conservation Center, which is pretty interesting. And another thing that you’ve been
focusing on lately is the Foundation at Merton College, Oxford. Could you tell us a bit about that?>>Peter Phillips: Yes. This is a wonderful idea. Merton College, Oxford is
the oldest college in Oxford or Cambridge in its foundation. It was founded in 1264. And before that, it was clearly
a group of students there — scholars, whatever you
want to call them — living in this sort of community. But that happened in
Oxford and Cambridge. But mostly earliest in Oxford. And the buildings that are there
for Merton are the early sort of — what do you call it? Communal buildings for a
properly founded college. The chapel was started in 1264. And it was just a fantastic chapel. I mean, it’s the size
of a small cathedral. It’s architecturally
completely unspoiled, and there was no choral foundation. The choral foundations in
Oxford and Cambridge came later. They all came in the
14th and 15th centuries. And we’re talking about
the 13th here. So anyway, I said —
and wonderful sound. We’d been recording in
there for many years. I said to the warden, “Why is
there no choral foundation here? It’s just elementary.” And the warden said, “I don’t know.” So we worked on it. And we got the money together. One of your countrymen
helped us quite a bit.>>Nick Brown: Oh. Great. Wonderful. Had you been Director of Music for a period already before
the establishment of the –>>Peter Phillips: No, I just
made records there for years. I mean, the history of that is that
we made records in Merton in the — when we started in the
’70s and early ’80s. We then got noisy or
— I can’t remember. We went to the countryside
when we could afford to. We went to a lovely church
in the middle of nowhere in Norfolk and made records there. That was lovely. Then we couldn’t afford it
anymore, so we went back to Oxford. It’s as simple as that. And it was while we were doing
the second spate of recordings that I worked out this question
about a choral foundation.>>Nick Brown: Is it
a mixed voice choir?>>Peter Phillips: Yes.>>Nick Brown: How do you approach
conducting the younger singers versus your professional singers?>>Peter Phillips:
Well, it’s difficult. I find conducting inexperienced
singers quite difficult. Well, I think they find it quite
difficult to follow me actually. I don’t have an orchestral beat. I’ve never conducted an orchestra. So you know that sort of more orchestral conductor,
all that kind of thing. It’s not quite right for the music
I do with professional singers, which is polyphonic
music, as you know. And [inaudible], as you can see
from those scores right there. And so it’s much more appropriate
to conduct it sort of sweeping through without doing
this heavy downbeat, which is what inexperienced
people need. They need to know where
the bar starts. Well, that’s the problem. So I’ve had to sort
of work on that a bit. The other thing about Merton is that
the — it’s got tremendous acoustics and the distances are quite wide. It’s quite a wide chapel. So I’m standing here, and
some of them are over there. And I have to sort of
— that kind of thing. Yeah.>>Nick Brown: You are in
the process of recording all of the Josquin Masses, and
you’ve just released the sixth of nine recordings, and
the last one will be out in 2020, 2021, is that correct?>>Peter Phillips: You’re very good. Yes. That’s right.>>Nick Brown: I do work
in a library, after all.>>Peter Phillips: He’s good.>>Nick Brown: I remember
them, though. What has the experience been like
of recording all the Josquin Masses?>>Peter Phillips: Well, it’s true. There are 19 of them —
well, there are 18 of them with an optional 19th,
which probably isn’t by him, but it’s an interesting piece. And it makes up the last
record quite neatly. So we’re going to do 19
masses in this series. And we’ve actually released
— so it’s nine discs: two masses to a disc
and one that has three. And so we’re going to release —
we’ve released six of the nine. And we’ve recorded the next
two, and we’ve got the last one to do this month, right
at the end of the year. And then we have to edit them. And the thing about this
is Josquin died in 1521, and I’m hoping this will
be really a big year for us all to celebrate him. And I want this set of discs
out by 2020 so that we can say that they’re there already
right at the start of the year. And also plan a worldwide tour of all these masses
in different places. So I don’t know, we’re
probably go to Japan that year. They’ll have two of them. We’ll come here, you know,
twice at least, so do some here. So we cover the whole 19 around the
world and we make a noise about it. We make a brochure and
all that kind of thing. And you know, it looks exciting.>>Nick Brown: Are there any
specific interpretational issues that you are focusing on as
you go through this cycle?>>Peter Phillips: Well, Josquin
is a very subtle composer, and he’s not someone whose style
you can suddenly say that’s definitely him. He’s quite experimental. And that means it’s difficult just
to say he should be done like this. And I think that’s underplaying him
anyway, to turn him into Palestrina, for example, who does have the same
style, more or less consistently, and there are merits in that. I love Palestrina’s music. But Josquin is much more difficult
to — just to say, “Okay, yep.” So, and one — and he poses
real technical problems. This is one of his things —
he writes ranges of voice — voice ranges that go two octaves, and modern singers are not
trained to singing like that. A tenor, so called, has a specific
range when you’re learning tenor. And these parts just
wander all over the place. And we rather like a balanced, blended sound, from
top to bottom, up. It’s quite possible that
Josquin didn’t expect anything of the kind that we like. But I want to do it my way. And I’m not trying to impose — I’m
not trying to take anything away from the music, but I’m
trying to impose a sound — trying to produce a sound
through it, if you like, that we will collectively find
attractive and enable us to listen to the music with pleasure. What he heard in his
time, we will never know.>>Nick Brown: For the
program this evening, is there a specific thematic thread
or some kind of pacing consideration that went into selecting the program and also the sequence
of the repertoire?>>Peter Phillips: Well,
this is a Christmas program. I’m always being asked to put
— at this time of the year. It’s a bit of a challenge, actually. Because there isn’t that much. The Christmas music is much
more sort of popular music. Polyphony of the complicated
variety tended not to be written for cathedrals. It tended to be written
for courtly chapels, much smaller buildings
than a huge cathedral. And so it gets rather
specialized and I — so what I do, I’ve resorted to
doing is finding appropriate texts normally to do with the Virgin Mary. So there’s the Salve, the
Ave Maria, the Magnificat, which is actually an Advent
text, but we’re in Advent, because we always tour
in Advent, actually. This Christmas thing
starts quite early. You may have noticed. But Advent’s rather a difficult —
I find Advent quite difficult to pin down conceptually, so — but anyway
there are texts which go very well with Advent and the
Magnificat is one of them. So this evening, we’re
singing a Magnificat. The Josquin Praeter Rerum
Seriem motet, which is the basis for the mass we’re singing
is also a Christmas text — very mystical text, wonderful. So, but specifically Christmas. So it’s not quite right
for Advent but, you know. You’ve got some —
in the second half, you’ve got Hodie Christus Natus Est. That’s quite good. I mean, that’s a giveaway. That’s not — yeah.>>Nick Brown: Is there anything
in particular in the comparison of the two Salve Regina settings
that we should be listening out for?>>Peter Phillips: Well,
I have to tell you now — okay, here’s a bit of a story. We’re not singing the Salve
Regina by [inaudible]. Can you recover from
your disappointment?>>Nick Brown: Yes. Yes.>>Peter Phillips:
Thank you very much. Because it’s just not
a very good piece. I’m sorry to put it like that,
but I take risks, you know, when I’m planning —
we’ve done an awful lot of Christmas tours and I take risks. I say I love coming here in order
to experiment with repertoire, and that’s absolutely true. And I don’t know very
much about [inaudible]. And I just thought, well,
there’s a Salve Regina there. It looks really nice. And so I put it down
without ever having heard it. But I often do this. And these risks usually
come off really nicely. But not this time. I’m sorry. I mean, I could have saved it. It’s too long, and it’s not
very interesting, really. But I could have saved it. I think I could have saved it,
if there had been an edition of it which was reliable. But actually, the only edition
I could fine without going back to the sources — and I didn’t
have time to do that — is rubbish. There are two moments which
you just can’t sort out. I mean, we’re quite
experienced amongst ourselves at rewriting these pieces of
music when they don’t work to our satisfaction, but this
time I just couldn’t do it. And I just thought, no. No. Major mistake. So we’re going to sing a
setting of the Salve by Josquin. So you know, I think
you’ve lucked out there.>>Nick Brown: Wonderful.>>Peter Phillips: So
Josquin’s going to replace that, and then the second piece
is by Hernando Franco, who’s a Mexican composer. Yeah. First-generation Renaissance
Mexican — wonderful piece of music. That is really good.>>Nick Brown: Have you performed
his repertoire much before?>>Peter Phillips: Well, there isn’t
— I don’t know very much about it. We’ve been to Mexico a few times
now, and we have been encouraged by the person who booked us
there to make a record of — to explore more about
Franco and Padilla, who’s the other great
Mexican composer. We sing quite a lot
of Padilla, in fact. Not Franco. But I was really delighted
to find this man. But he’s — no, I hope so. You just got to, you know,
keep going long enough to cover all these exciting things,
because there’s all of Josquin to do and then there’s all that
English stuff and then there’s, I don’t know, the Portuguese. There’s so much to do.>>Nick Brown: Do you have
any specific recordings booked for after the Josquin?>>Peter Phillips: No. There’s a problem, a financial one. I mean, I just don’t know
what’s going to happen. We’ve got — we put this money
aside to make the ninth disc. We can afford that. We then got to edit it, which costs
money and produce the, you know, the books, and if we’re
going to do a proper CD, it’s got to have a nice
booklet and all that. And then I just, I mean, as
things are going at the moment, I don’t see how we’re going to —
what we’re going to do after that, in the format that we’re
using at the moment. It’s very disappointing. I mean, what I would really — okay,
well, I can answer the question. I mean, if I had the
money, I would do a record of the Eton Choirbook Repertoire. Does that mean anything to you?>>Nick Brown: Yes. Yeah.>>Peter Phillips: Yeah. The Eton Choirbook is a huge
manuscript that’s very fortunately — it’s not complete, but most of
it’s there, in Eton College Chapel. It was composed for
that chapel in about — it would have wrapped up in 1502. The time that it was compiled
was about 1495 to 1502. And it contains a whole repertoire of extraordinary music —
very difficult to sing. Very few groups can
sing it, basically. So I would — we hope we can, and
it would be great to have some of that stuff out of there. But it would cost.>>Nick Brown: Yeah. Do you have an American’s
Friends group?>>Peter Phillips: No.>>Nick Brown: You
might have members. Great. So I think we’ll open it
up to questions, if that’s okay. And if you have a question, just
stick your hand up in the air and my colleague Jay will bring
a microphone to you as we do want to record you for the
permanent archives. Select your wording accordingly.>>Thank you. I’m personally partial
to Josquin’s motets. Do you have any plans to, in a
more minor way, explore the motets at the same time you’re
celebrating the masses in 2020, ’21? I understand you don’t have a
project to record all of the motets, but are you going to
be fitting in — helping people understand
his non-misa repertoire?>>Peter Phillips: Well,
yes, I hope so, very much. I mean, the thing about the
motets is they tend to be scored for more voices than the masses. One of the interesting
thing about the masses is that they’re all scored
for four voices only. Whereas the bigger motets,
like the one you’re going to hear this evening which is
in many ways the best of them. This praeter rerum was — this motet
that starts the concert tonight — was incredibly influential
at the time. I’m sure you know it, if you’re
a follower of the motets. But it’s got a sort of sonority
to it that’s quite unique. And a lot of the composers that follow Josquin
took it up as a model. Anyway, that doesn’t
answer your question. I mean, we do this motet a lot,
and there are plenty of others, I’ve just put down
the Pater Noster — you know, the Lord’s Prayer
— for a concert next year. But there are many of them. Well, I just decided — in fact,
the motets are more famous. What I’ve done all my career is try
to put forward really good pieces that nobody knew at the
time that we recorded them. And that’s helped quite a number of
composers become fairly mainstream. I could instance them,
but I — anyway, yeah. So, but the motets are already
fairly well-established, so — while not all of them, I agree,
and there are a lot of them, I just had — I can’t do everything. So we decided we’d do
the masses, and oh, I’d love to do some
motets with them. Josquin tended — well, didn’t base
his masses on any of his own motets. So we’re not going to get
that little neat sandwich that you can get with some of
these composers, like Palestrina.>>Nick Brown: Next
question, in the back?>>Yeah, I know y’all
did the premier of Tavener’s last piece,
the Requiem Fragments.>>Peter Phillips: Oh, yes.>>Wonderful piece. Are there — now that he’s gone,
and y’all have had a long history of performing his works, are there
other more contemporary composers that you’re sort of trying to reach
for in the future, or that you say, “Well, my God, these guys —
people aren’t really performing, and they really should
be performing”? Yeah, that sort of thing.>>Peter Phillips: Yeah, Nico Muhly. I don’t know if you’ve
come across him. He’s American.>>Nick Brown: Oh, yeah. We’ve commissioned him.>>Peter Phillips: Yeah. Hmm? Did you like the piece?>>Nick Brown: Yes. It was called Compare Notes,
and it was for Daniel Hope and Jeffrey Kahane, a violin piece. And then we got the
choir from Temple Church in London do his Magna Carta piece, when the Lincoln Cathedral
copy came here, two years ago.>>Peter Phillips: Terrific. Well, there you go. So the Lincoln Center commissioned
Nico Muhly to write us a set of lamentations, which he did. And I think it’s absolutely
fantastic. We’ve just been on
a tour of Australia, and we sang it every night. So we really know these
lamentations by Nico really well. And it goes — it fits
very well with, you know, the Renaissance settings; the Tallis
in particular we did alongside it. And it makes such as exciting — if
the modern composers got it right, as Avo Part does, the
music matches up so — if it could be made to match up,
in the way that Part does it, with Renaissance style, then we
have a fantastic half of a concert, where we can just make
these comparisons and I find them thrilling. And I think they’ve
gone down very well. So I’m hoping Nico — I think the
Lincoln Center are going to ask him to write a follow-up, so
I look forward to that. I mean, so the answer is
Arvo Part we sing a lot. But he’s now, won’t write anymore. He’s 81. So I’m afraid that’s that. And Tavener’s dead,
and there’s Nico. There’s Eric Whitacre. He wrote us a piece. He was very, very good about that. I like that piece. He’s very careful in the way he
wrote it, specifically for us. There’s Gabriel Jackson
we’ve commissioned. Quite a few.>>Nick Brown: Great. Next question?>>This is really a
question out of ignorance. But I wonder if over time —
say, the last 30 or 40 years — research has revealed anything
that might have changed things in your performance practices?>>Peter Phillips:
Well, that’s — yeah. If the scholars had been able to
find good evidence of how they sang in those days, that would
be very interesting. Because then we would know
whether we were on the — the early instrument thing was,
the whole thing was that they — the instruments they found were
what the composer was writing for. So you’re then able
to produce the sound that the composer actually wrote
for, in those early orchestras or whatever those instruments
were playing. So the instruments are there. You can play them and get the sound. We can’t do that with our thing. So I’m left, I mean, in a rather
fortunate but ambiguous position of guessing and trying to make the
music come alive for today, for us. And the scholars can’t
tell me that I’m wrong, but they certainly can’t
tell me I’m right either. And then there’s the question of — I mean, the scholarly arguments about speeds, pitch,
fixta [phonetic]. I don’t know if this means anything
to you, but I mean, there — but these arguments never change. I mean, in the 40 years
I’ve been going, I haven’t heard — I
mean, they had fads. You know, there were
fads of pronunciation. Latin was always —
suddenly about 30 years ago, Latin had to be pronounced
in the tradition that the composer came from. So we suddenly had German
Latin, French Latin. That lasted about — really
inconveniently for about six years. Then it went away again. We could go back to our
very happily Italian Latin, which comes so much more
naturally and stop — so I mean, there are
fads, and there are fads of fickter [phonetic] as well. You can make it sound — sort
of pre-Raphaelite, if you like, by not pushing any of
the cadence fickters. The pitch sing has come and gone
a bit, as you probably know. The English tend to transpose up. But that’s sort of gone
again now, so it’s settling down back towards written
pitch again. They don’t know, and they argue
with each other all the time. So that — what I have
to do in a rehearsal — you know, I’ve got an hour
to sort this thing out and get a performance
going for a big public — I’m just not going to
have academics arguing about it, just there and then. I mean, you have to
make a decision — this is how it’s going
to be tonight. Maybe not for the next, but
tonight, it’s going to be like this. And it’s usually —
someone always disagrees. And the last thing we want is
critics writing in big newspapers who are academics, because
they always have something to disagree with.>>Thanks.>>I don’t think I can paraphrase
your first question to Peter, but I’m wondering if, Peter, you
could elaborate a little bit more on audiences around the world
and where you can do sort of maybe less experimental
things and why that is — whether it’s a tradition,
cultural –>>Peter Phillips: Yeah.>>Why?>>Peter Phillips: Well, in the Western Christian
world, it’s one thing. At least the Latin is
something that they know — you know, the audience knows
existed, and they have a sort of sense of where the
music has come from, what the Ave Maria text might mean
to people, that kind of thing. But we’ve recently sung
a lot in China and Japan. And then you’re dealing
with a very different setup. And very different between
those two countries, in fact. The Japanese are extremely
knowledgeable about this music and sing it themselves quite a lot. But they’re not very adventurous. So when we go to Japan, we tend to sing the same pieces
over and over again. I can’t experiment very much there. I can slip in the odd — sort of oddball piece
that gets by the censor but it’s really — I’ll tell you. It’s the Victoria Requiem,
Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, Josquin’s Missa Pange
Lingua, Tallis’s Lamentations, the Allegri Miserere
in every concert. I’m not exaggerating too much. Now, in China, they have no
knowledge at all, and they put us on in these symphony halls, which
it’s important to them to fill. So it really is extraordinary
business. I mean, they don’t
know what to ask for, so I try to put together a program
which will — and then they say, “Well, could we have Greensleeves?” So I say, “Yep. Yes. You can have Greensleeves. The rest of the concert will be
more like what we normally do. But I’m sure — ” and
then they can come up — the Koreans are very good at
coming up with local folk songs that have been arranged
for SATB a cappella. And we sing those as encores. And that’s the way the
concerts are sold, really, that we’ll do our own thing and
that’s potentially interesting, but at the end, they’ll get
something they really know. And one occasion — it wasn’t
Greensleeves — what’s that? Amazing Grace. Yes. The audience sang it with us. I had to conduct the audience. You know, having previously
just sung Tallis’s Lamentations or something, we then —
the thing turned into much like a communal activity. And they loved it, and so,
yeah, we’ve been invited back. [ Laughter ] It’s extraordinary. That doesn’t wholly answer
the question but I think, yes, in the Western world — in Italy,
they like Palestrina very much and, I mean, that’s fine by me. There’s so much to do. I can do anything within
some sort of guidelines. And very often we’re asked to sing
in festivals which have a theme. The theme might be a city,
like Venice or Vienna. And then I love planning
those programs. And then I can get
away with experiments, because it fits the theme.>>Nick Brown: Great.>>Peter Phillips: Yeah.>>Nick Brown: What’s the
oddest city that’s had a theme? I know that was a bizarre question. I’m sorry.>>Peter Phillips: I wish
I could think of one. I mean, sometimes they have — you
know, these directors of festivals, they come up with ideas
that’s is important — you know, it’s their job,
I suppose, where they have to have not just a theme of a city,
but you know, the dance of death or just dance, actually is one. I mean, we’ve had that recently, and I can’t think of
them all now, but –>>Nick Brown: Very good. Will you be around for signing CDs?>>Peter Phillips: Yes, I will. Yeah. I’ll definitely be there.>>Nick Brown: So there
will be CDs on sale, and is your book going
to be available?>>Peter Phillips: Yes,
my book is available. If you’re — I mean, I’ll
just mention this now. I’ve written a book which
describes just these questions, actually of what it’s like to go
around the world singing this music and who we sing it to, and
it’s quite an interesting — well, I find it an
interesting story, anyway. I’m very happy — I’d
love to sign a book. Yeah.>>Nick Brown: Wonderful.>>Peter Phillips: Yeah.>>Nick Brown: So we’re going to give Peter a break
now before the concert. But thank you all for listening
so committedly and intently and for asking some great questions. Thank you, Peter, for
exchanging some ideas with us, and we hope this has
been fun for you. And we’ll look forward
to hearing you and seeing you conduct
in a few moments.>>Peter Phillips: Exactly. Thank you very much.>>Nick Brown: Thank you.>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at LOC.gov.