Stephen Cleobury

Conductor & Organist

At a glance

Stephen Cleobury

Conductor & Organist

Hearing the choir minus the impressionistic shimmer of the chapel’s reverberation only increased one’s admiration for conductor Stephen Cleobury’s achievement in maintaining such standards.
The Times (London)

Stephen Cleobury has directed the choir of King’s College Cambridge for 35 years, and with the choir has worked with many leading orchestras and soloists. He complements his work in Cambridge with many other musical activities including orchestral and choral conducting, giving organ recitals and making frequent workshop and judging appearances as a choral expert.

Biography —

Stephen Cleobury has for over thirty 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 Philharmonia and Britten Sinfonia 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 has conceived and 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. One of the most exciting innovations in this context was the first live simultaneous transmission of a concert (Handel Messiah) direct to cinemas across Europe and North America. The most recent innovation at King’s is its new record label, under which a number of very well-received discs have already been produced. This summer the King’s Choir performed at four German festivals and in Iceland.

Stephen’s influence has extended beyond King’s to many 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 and Magdalen, Oxford, St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 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 conductors and as eminent organ soloists.

Between 1995 and 2007 he was Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers and since then has been Conductor Laureate. With the Singers he relished the opportunity to showcase challenging contemporary music and gave a number of notable premieres, including Giles Swayne Havoc, Ed Cowie Gaia, and Francis Grier Passion, all these with the distinguished ensemble, Endymion. His many recordings with the BBC Singers include albums of Tippett, Richard Strauss and Bach.

From 1983 to 2009 he was Conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society, one of the UK’s oldest music societies, a role in which he has not only conducted many orchestral works, but most of the major works for chorus and orchestra. Highlights have included Mahler Symphony No. 8 in the Royal Albert Hall and Britten War Requiem in Coventry Cathedral on the 50th anniversary of its bombing. His recordings with CUMS include Verdi Quattro Pezzi Sacri and Goehr The Death of Moses. As part of the 800th anniversary celebrations of Cambridge University he gave the première of The Sorcerer’s Mirror by Peter Maxwell Davies.

Unusually for such a busy conductor, he has also remained active as an organist and gives regular recitals in the series of weekly organ recitals at the organ of King’s Chapel. Performances as an organ recitalist also find him travelling the world. He has played in locations as diverse as Houston and Dallas, Leeds and Birmingham Town Halls, Westminster, Lincoln and St David’s Cathedrals, the Performing Arts Centre in Hong Kong, Haderslev Cathedral in Denmark, and Salt Lake’s huge LDS Conference Center, where he played to an audience of several thousand people. At the American Guild of Organists’ Convention in Minneapolis-St Paul in 2008, he gave the première of Judith Bingham’s organ concerto, Jacob’s Ladder; he has recorded Bach Clavierübung Pt. 3 and the Leipzig Chorale Preludesfor BBC Radio 3; discs of on the organ of King’s include albums of music by Howells and Elgar, Priory Records have released a DVD of popular repertoire and a CD of organ music by Liszt, Reubke and Mendelssohn is about to be issued under the King’s College Choir label.

Stephen has played his part in serving a number of organisations in his field. From his teenage years until 2008 he was a member of the Royal College of Organists, serving as a Council member, Honorary Secretary, President and Vice-President. He has been Warden of the Solo Performers’ section of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and President of the Incorporated Association of Organists; he is currently Chairman of the IAO Benevolent Fund, which seeks to support organists and church musicians in need. He was appointed CBE in 2009.

Stephen Cleobury is always glad to hear from potential members of King’s College Choir

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Reviews —

Presiding over the lengthy and well-chosen program was the choir’s genial music director, Stephen Cleobury, who occasionally offered some charming informal commentary on the music. And what music! ... The singers have mastered the music so completely that many of them glanced only occasionally at their scores, focusing instead on Cleobury’s expressive hands and clear indications.

Seattle Times, March 2017

The restrained and precise, but passionate leadership of Stephen Cleobury, one of the world's most highly regarded choral directors, always kept the music itself centre stage.

Review of concert in Hong Kong, August 2016

There was a deserved five-minute standing ovation at the end of the performance, and especially for Stephen Cleobury who responded with characteristic modesty.

Dream of Gerontius, Cambridge Evening News, June 2016

Stephen Cleobury - minimum fuss but maximum impact at Seattle Symphony’s ‘Baroque and Wine’ concert.

Seattle Times, February 2016

​Stephen Cleobury is on peak form... These are outstanding performances by a great musician.

Gramophone Magazine, August 2015

Selected Discography —

The King of Instruments

To celebrate the refurbishment of the Harrison & Harrison organ at King’s, Cambridge, the College’s Musical Director presents a captivating sequence centred on Bach. Six of his chorale preludes are highly absorbing, not least because Cleobury finds a different registration for each. Franck’s Pièce héroïque mines a deep shaft of basso sonority that contrasts with the prevailing textural delicacy, and indeed deliciousness, of the Bach and a Mendelssohn sonata. ​ The effect is magnificent.

The Sunday Times

Bach St John Passion

The King’s Choir’s impact is immediate. I want this for the solo line up, and for the sound of the boys on top; on such good form.

Record Review, BBC Radio 3

Hymns From King's

Formidable tunes from across the liturgical year in engaging arrangements by choirmaster Stephen Cleobury. The choir's diction and tuning are excellent.

BBC Music Magazine

Duruflé Requiem

The choir and the King’s organ are beautifully caught in the famously generous chapel acoustics, tender and lyrical one moment, splendid and grand the next. Cleobury’s shaping of the climax of the Sanctus is perfectly judged. Each of the Four Motets on Gregorian melodies (1960) is a perfect miniature to which Cleobury devotes as much care as he does to the Requiem.

Classical Music Magazine
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