A Fond Farewell to Sir Stephen

Seven young organists from King’s College School after their Organ Recital dedicated to Sir Stephen Cleobury

Earlier this year, seven pupils from King’s College School gave an Organ Recital in King’s College Chapel.  It was a very special occasion for the boys and those of us privileged enough to attend. They dedicated this brilliant recital to their retiring Director of Music, Sir Stephen Cleobury  “to express their thanks and gratitude to him for all that he had done for them during their time as choristers at King’s”. Sadly the choral world has lost one of its greatest and ex-choristers galore will echo the boys’ words and be united in mourning Sir Stephen – a truly remarkable man and very talented musician.  

Sir Stephen started his extraordinary musical journey as a chorister at Worcester Cathedral under the batons of Douglas Guest and then Christopher Robinson before becoming organ scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge, under the musical direction of George Guest. He arrived at King’s College, Cambridge in 1982 via St Matthew’s Church, Northampton, Westminster Abbey and three years as the first Anglican Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral.

Expanding Repertoire Recorded for Posterity

On Christmas Eve 2018 he conducted the 100th Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Chapel. The service has been broadcast live by the BBC since 1928 and in 1984 he started the tradition of commissioning a new carol each year, with last year’s composed by Judith Weir.  King’s College Choir’s repertoire now includes many modern works to complement the more traditional fare.  In a bid to demonstrate that King’s isn’t just for Christmas, he established the Festival of Easter at King’s along with Concerts at King’s throughout the year.

Sir Stephen Cleobury 1948-2019

Over the years, Sir Stephen contributed to a vast catalogue of recordings both as a conductor and organist, and in 2012 the choir began recording under its own label. There were many tours too across the globe, reaching out to the many millions who feel Christmas starts with the Choir’s Christmas broadcast.

Recognition far and wide

Beyond King’s he was conductor of Cambridge University Musical Society from 1983 to 2009; President of the Royal College of Organists from 1990 to 1992; and Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers from 195 to 2007 and then their Conductor Laureate.

In 2008 Sir Stephen was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal School of Church Music and was an Honorary Doctor of Music from Anglia Ruskin University. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 and earlier this year he was knighted in the 2019 Birthday Honours for services to choral music, a fitting and thoroughly deserved recognition of the inspiration and pleasure he brought to so many.