Tessa Bonner: Soprano who sang with the Tallis Scholars for more than 25 years

One of the most distinctive and attractive voices of the British early music movement, Tessa Bonner's freshwater pearl soprano shaped the sound of the Tallis Scholars for over 25 years, and was heard in Renaissance, Baroque and classical repertoire across the world. A junior exhibitioner at the London College of Music, she turned to singing after working as a production assistant for the BBC. As a soloist she performed with the Taverner Consort, Gabrieli Consort, New London Consort, Academy of Ancient Music, St James's Baroque, The Lute Group, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, Collegium Vocale Gent, King's Consort and London Mozart Players, and was co-founder of Musica Secreta, the premiere ensemble specialising in music written by female composers of the 17th-century.

She was born Teresa Pollard in 1951, and grew up in Fulham and Hounslow, in west London. As a child she showed early promise as a pianist and clarinettist, and sang with her local choral society from the age of 16. After secretarial training at the BBC, she moved into television production, working on Face the Music and Blue Peter. When her first marriage (to Dyl Bonner) ended, she attended Leeds University as a mature student. Aware that her hands were too small for a career as a concert pianist (she also wore size two shoes), she took singing lessons with Honor Sheppard, then continued her vocal studies with Margaret Lenksy and Ellis Keeler at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

Vivacious, level-headed and innately musical, Tessa Bonner was soon an established artist. Her discography can be read as a history of Britishearly music. With the Tallis Scholars she made 37 recordings, including Spem in Alium and Media Vita. Asa soloist, her discs included Bach'sSt John Passion (with Andrew Parrott), Vivaldi's Gloria (with Richard Hickox), Die Zauberflöte (with RogerNorrington), and three versions of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers (Taverner Consort, New London Consort and Gabrieli Consort).

As the conductor Peter Phillips recalls, Bonner's versatility enabled her to trace the high-arching treble lines of Tudor polyphony with ease. She was an intelligent, expressive singer, and could animate the most austere or florid phrases of the Baroque. The soprano Emma Kirkby, who sang with Bonner from the early 1980s, remembers her singing as "feminine, warm and sexy; guileless and true, but full of life; a voice that reflected the person." To the conductor Paul McCreesh it was "dusky, unusual, instantly recognisable." Klaus Neumann, a German record and radio producer who worked with her a lot in the 1980s, described her singing as "spotless and beautiful, infectiously charming". To this writer, it was a subtle, private smile of a voice, equally alluring in sacred and profane music.

That private smile sometimes concealed a fantastically saucy laugh. Among her colleagues, Bonner's sense of humour, practicality and unflappability were prized almost as highly as her musicality. Never one to play the diva, she was supportive of her fellow working mothers and encouraging of younger singers. From safety-pins to sticky tape, she was prepared for any emergency, whether singing plainchant by candlelight while processing through a Spanish car-park, deciphering directions to concert halls in the Far East, reworking breath marks for the high-altitude air of Denver, battling jet-lag or hoisting her luggage through a flooded Venice. As McCreesh observes, "Tessa never took singing for granted. However tough a tour might be, she always radiated pleasure in doing what she loved."

Off-stage, her musical tastes were catholic. She inherited a love of jazz from her father, Ron Pollard, adored Bessie Smith, the Beatles, Motown, and later, through her daughter Laura Curry, enjoyed the Arctic Monkeys and the Kaiser Chiefs. Bonner was a natural urbanite and a greedy lover of galleries, theatre, ballet and bookshops. With her mother, Peggy, she visited France in search of Bonnard and Matisse. The Tallis Scholars' American concert tours introduced her to Manhattan and Ann Arbor, where she indulged her passion for modern American literature, bringing home novels and short stories by writers as yet unknown to most British readers. As her long-term partner, the singer Donald Greig, points out, most of those writers were female, reflecting her "quiet but determined feminism".

Diagnosed with oral cancer in January 2008, she returned to work in May. She last sang on 27 November, in what was her 1,100th concert with the Tallis Scholars.

Anna Picard

Tessa Bonner, soprano: born London 28 February 1951; married 1972 Dyl Bonner (marriage dissolved 1980), 1986 Graeme Curry (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1999); died London 31 December 2008.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

Ashdown Group: Assistant Management Accountant - Part Qualified CIMA / ACCA

£30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are recruitment for an Assistan...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive - OTE £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Recruitment Genius: Logistics Analyst

£23000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be a part of ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea