Stephen Cleobury has for over quarter of a century 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 and the Philharmonia. 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, in its wake, a series of high-profile performances throughout the year, Concerts at King’s. One of the most exciting innovations in this context was the first ever live simultaneous transmission of a concert (Handel Messiah) direct to cinemas across Europe and North America.
Between 1995 and 2007 he was Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers and since then has been Conductor Laureate. During his time with the Singers, he was much praised for creating an integrated choral sound from this group of first-class singers, all of whom are professional soloists in their own right. With the Singers he relished the opportunity to showcase challenging contemporary music and gave a number of important 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.
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; in the Messiaen centenary year he performed La Nativité du Seigneur in King’s Chapel. He has recorded Bach Clavierübung Pt.3 and the Leipzig Chorale Preludes for BBC Radio 3; discs of on the organ of King’s include albums of music by Howells and Elgar and Priory Records have released a DVD of popular repertoire.
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 this organisation 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 the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours.