The group evolved from a student chamber choir and period-instrument ensemble founded at Manchester University, England, by student conductor and cellist Paul McCreesh in 1982. When the group was able to formally organize, it took the name Gabrieli Consort & Players in part to express an interest in the earlier part of Baroque music history.
The Gabrieli is particularly noted for its interest in the historical currents of the time period of their music, an age of the rise of monarchial splendor, and the shifting of power in Europe from the Mediterranean to countries like Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and England with direct access to the open Atlantic. Thus, it has presented concerts re-creating a Venetian Vesper service of 1643, a coronation in Venice in 1595, a Requiem service for King Philip II of Spain, a Mass for the Feast of St. Isidore of Seville as it might have been presented at Toledo Cathedral circa 1590, and a German Christmas mass as it might have been conducted around 1620. These often spectacular re-creations were part of the increasing popularity of the group, which soon began to appear on British and European radio and television.
Such presentations particularly lent themselves to inclusion in summer festivals. Among them have been appearances in the City of London Festival, the Handel Festival Halle, the Flander's Festival, the Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele, the Covent Garden Festival, the Lucerne Festival, the Bremen Musikfest, and the Jerusalem Festival.
The Gabrieli's first highly successful release was A Venetian Coronation 1595, on the Virgin Classics label, which won several important prizes. In 1993, the group signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, and appears on that company's Archiv label. It has made over a dozen releases, including the prize-winning Venetian Vespers (Grammophone Award for Early Music, 1994, and Grammy Award nomination), recordings of music of Palestrina and Praetorius (Diapason d'Or, Deutschen Schallplattenpreis, and Edison Award), A Requiem for Philip II (Choc de la Musique), and a recording of Handel's Messiah, a Grammophone Record of the Month. The Gabrieli Consort & Players made its first venture into opera in a 1996 concert production of Handel's Orlando in 1996 at the City of London Festival and the Festival of Beaune in France. Other operas it has presented are Purcell's King Arthur (Bergen Festival and Festival of Flanders); Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, The Fairy Queen, and King Arthur in a Scandinavian tour; and Handel's Theodora on an extensive European tour, followed by an Archiv recording. The Gabrieli made its first trip outside Europe, a visit to South America to present the Messiah in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1996. Its interest in the less-performed Baroque and late Renaissance repertory has led to its performances and recordings of Victoria's Officium defunctorum of 1605, Praetorius' Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning, and Biber's massive and spectacular Missa Salisburgensis. In an unusual foray outside the Baroque-Renaissance time period, at the City of London Festival it performed Anton Bruckner's Mass in E minor with motets by Palestrina. 2012 marked the group's 20th anniversary and included performances of Haydn's The Seasons and Theatre des Champs Elysées. Later recordings include Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts (2011) and A Song of Farewell.