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Group performs music from Renaissance era

| Monday, April 4, 2016

Church musicians, faculty of music programs and concertgoers gathered Sunday afternoon at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) to listen to the Tallis Scholars perform various works of sacred a cappella music composed in the Renaissance era or style.

According to its website, the Tallis Scholars is a British group comprised of 10 singers and at least two singers in each voice, all led by director Peter Phillips. They have performed at numerous venues, from cathedrals to concert halls, on every continent except for Antarctica.

During their two-hour concert, they performed works by various composers including William Byrd, John Tavener, Richard Davy, Thomas Tallis and Alfonso Ferrabosco. The music ranged in style and length, from single motets to the completed collection of “Western Wind” mass parts set by Tavener, as well as variations of “Salve Regina” and “Lamentations.”

Sean Martin, assistant director of programming and engagement for DPAC, described the group as the preeminent experts on Renaissance polyphony and had advocated to invite them to perform at Notre Dame.

“ … They are amazing musicians, amazing interpreters of early music, and I think the best group in the world,” he said.

Regarding the logistics of bringing them here, Martin said the planning process began during the fall of 2014. The executive director of DPAC is expected to curate an entire season a year in advance and the planning process is dependent on the nature of certain artists and groups, he said.

“[For] a group that is international, like the Tallis Scholars, … their agent has to put together a tour so they need to work far in advance to see the routing to make sure a tour of the [U.S.] works,” he said.

Bringing artists to the university requires a substantial amount of funding, Martin said, and while the Office of the Provost provides DPAC with a budget each year, they still look for co-sponsors to shoulder some of the costs. The Tallis Scholars concert was part of the Marjorie O’Malley Sacred Music Series and was partially funded by the series’ endowment. The sacred music program at Notre Dame and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies were co-sponsors, as well, and provided additional financial aid, Martin said.

In addition to the concert, the Tallis Scholars offered to rehearse with members of the sacred music program at Notre Dame and to answer some of the questions people had about their music and performances, Martin said.

“We hope to learn a lot more about the singers, about the group, about their practicing techniques, about how a professional touring ensemble like this functions,” he said. “It’s going to be invaluable for the students who are going to participate.”

The singers arrive to any given rehearsal knowing the music so they are not working on learning notes, and, instead, are working on interpretation, line and ensemble, Martin said. Since many of the students in the sacred music program aspire to be conductors or choir directors, they will be able to learn and develop their skills under the instruction of Phillips, who started the ensemble in 1973, he said.

Senior voice and computer science major Camilla Tassi rehearsed with the ensemble. The Tallis Scholars sat interspersed among the students and sang five pieces with them, she said.

“I think what was obviously incredible was singing right next to a Tallis Scholar,” she said.

The singers and Phillips held an informal question-and-answer session with the students during the workshop, Tassi said. The students asked questions ranging from sound quality and the use of vibrato to the comparison between European and American choral settings, she said.

Martin said he believes bringing the Tallis Scholars to Notre Dame was an invaluable experience.

“Nearly every choir on campus … sings music written by Thomas Tallis or Renaissance polyphonies, … so to hear the best group in the world sing Renaissance polyphony, I think, is the least we can give our students,” he said.

“ … It’s really important — and we do this with a lot of our artists — to engage with students or the community beyond the performance in some manner so that the opportunity for students goes deeper than just listening to some performance.”

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About Wei Lin

Wei Lin currently serves as an Assistant Managing Editor for The Observer. He served as the Photo Editor on the 2014-2015 Editorial Board. He is a senior Accountancy, Economics, and Chinese triple major living in Knott Hall. He hails from the borough of Queens in New York City.

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