Cleobury, Sir Stephen

2019-07-03 20:19:00

Stephen Cleobury has for over thirty five years been associated with one of the world’s most famous choirs, that of King’s College, Cambridge. His work at King’s has brought him into fruitful relationships with many leading orchestras and soloists, among them the Academy of Ancient Music, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Britten Sinfonia, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia, and he has worked with many artists – singers and instrumentalists – of international repute. He complements and refreshes his work in Cambridge through the many other musical activities in which he engages.

At King’s, he has sought to maintain and enhance the reputation of the world-famous Choir, considerably broadening the daily service repertoire, commissioning new music from leading composers, principally for A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and developing its activities in broadcasting, recording and touring. He introduced the highly successful annual festival, Easter at King’s, from which the BBC regularly broadcasts, and a series of high-profile performances throughout the year, Concerts at King’s, which brings to the Chapel many world-class performers, including in recent years singers Bryn Terfel, Andreas Scholl, Gerald Finley, instrumentalists Alison Balsom, Jennifer Pike and Rachel Podger, and groups such as the Monteverdi Choir and the Vienna Boys’ Choir. The most recent innovation at King’s is its own record label, under which a number of very well received discs have been released.

Stephen’s influence has extended beyond King’s to an array of other choirs through the many organ scholars he has trained: the choirs at Norwich Cathedral, St George’s Chapel, Windsor, Trinity College, Cambridge, New College, Oxford, St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and St Thomas’s Church, New York City are all run by former organ scholars of Stephen, while other choral and organ scholars who have passed through the Choir during Stephen’s time now pursue careers as international conductors, organ soloists and opera singers.

Stephen’s freelance conducting has taken him to many locations across the world. Between 1995 and 2007 he was Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers, where he was much praised for creating an integrated choral sound from this group of first-class professional singers and for the many premieres he conducted. He has continued his association with the Singers as Conductor Laureate.

He has nurtured generations of young musicians during his many years as Conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society, one of the UK’s oldest music societies, a role in which he has conducted many orchestral works, all the major works for chorus and orchestra, and a number of premieres. Highlights included Mahler Symphony No. 8 in the Royal Albert Hall, Britten War Requiem in Coventry Cathedral on the 60th anniversary of its bombing and, as part of the 800th anniversary celebrations of Cambridge University, the première of The Sorcerer’s Mirror by Peter Maxwell Davies. He became the Society’s first ever Conductor Laureate in 2016.

Unusually for such a busy conductor, he has also remained active as an organist. He has played in locations as diverse as Houston and Dallas, Cape Town and Haderslev, Leeds and Birmingham Town Halls, Westminster, the Performing Arts Centre in Hong Kong and Salt Lake’s huge LDS Conference Center.

His many recordings on the organ include Bach Clavierübung Pt. 3 and the Leipzig Chorale Preludes for BBC Radio 3. Discs on the organ of King’s include albums of music by Howells and Elgar; Priory Records have released a DVD of popular repertoire; recent CDs on the King’s College label feature a disc of organ music by Liszt, Reubke and Mendelssohn and a ‘King of Instruments’ CD’, with Stephen playing music on the newly restored organ in King’s Chapel by his friends Simon Preston and George Baker, as well as works by Franck, and Mendelssohn, together with chorale preludes by Bach. Warner Classics, meanwhile, has released a disc featuring Stephen on organ and Alison Balsom on trumpet.

Stephen has played his part in serving a number of organisations in his field. He is a past President of the Royal College of Organists and of the Incorporated Association of Organists; he is currently President of the Friends of Cathedral Music and of the Herbert Howells Society and Chairman of the IAO Benevolent Fund, which seeks to support organists and church musicians in need. He was appointed CBE in 2009 and this summer received an honorary doctorate from the University of York.

Stephen is always happy to hear from potential members of King’s College Choir and welcomes enquiries to his office (01223 331224 or

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Cleobury Sir Stephen