Rhinegold Photo credit: Courtesy King's College Cambridge

Harriet Clifford

Sir Stephen Cleobury (1948-2019)

9:18, 3rd December 2019

The former director of music at King’s College, Cambridge died from cancer at the age of 70, on 22 November 2019.

Prior to his retirement from the role at the College in September 2019, Sir Stephen had led the world-renowned choir for 37 years, following in the footsteps of his predecessors A H Mann, Boris Ord, Sir David Willcocks and Sir Philip Ledger. His time at King’s saw the Choir record a wide range of repertoire, from Byrd and Purcell to 20th-century and contemporary composers.

Many have paid tribute since his death to the legacy he leaves behind, which includes a new commission each year for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast live on BBC radio on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Cleobury’s final Festival as music director has since been released as a commemorative album marking the 100th service: A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols: The Centenary Service.

Stephen Cleobury was a chorister at Worcester Cathedral, where he was taught by Douglas Guest, Christopher Robinson and Harry Bramma; he went on to study music and was an organ scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge under George Guest, subsequently taking up the sub-organist’s post at Westminster Abbey. In 1979, he became the first Anglican master of music at Westminster Cathedral.

Moving to King’s College, Cambridge in 1982 as director of music, he also conducted the Cambridge University Musical Society from 1983 and 2009; from 1995 to 2007, Cleobury served as chief conductor of the BBC Singers. He was knighted in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to choral music.

C&O’s February issue will include a special tribute to Sir Stephen Cleobury, in acknowledgement of his outstanding contribution to the choral world.

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