Stephen Cleobury

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Sir Stephen Cleobury

Cleobury in 2009
Stephen John Cleobury

(1948-12-31)31 December 1948
Bromley, England
Died22 November 2019(2019-11-22) (aged 70)
York, England
Alma materSt John's College, Cambridge (organ scholar)
  • Director of Music
  • Organist
Penny Holloway
Emma Disley
(m. 2004)
Parent(s)John Cleobury
Brenda Randall
RelativesNicholas Cleobury (brother)

Sir Stephen John Cleobury CBE (/ˈklbəri/ KLEE-bər-ee; 31 December 1948 – 22 November 2019)[1][2] was an English organist and music director. He worked with the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, where he served as music director from 1982 to 2019, and with the BBC Singers.[3]

During his long tenure at King's College, with the choir having performed a live broadcast on the BBC on Christmas Eve since 1928, he made the singers even better known by tours and recordings. From 1984 he introduced the commission of a new Christmas carol annually. Among many honours, he was honorary fellow of the Royal School of Church Music, and was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2009. In 2019, he was knighted for his contributions to choral music.


Early years[edit]

Stephen John Cleobury was born in Bromley, Kent, the son of John F. Cleobury and Brenda J. Randall.[4] He sang as a chorister at Worcester Cathedral under Douglas Guest then Christopher Robinson.[4] He was organ scholar at St John's College, Cambridge, under the musical directorship of George Guest, and sub-organist of Westminster Abbey before becoming the first Anglican master of music at the Catholic Westminster Cathedral in 1979.[4][5] In the 1970s, he was head of music at both St Matthew's Church, Northampton, and Northampton Grammar School,[4] where he taught music for four years.[6]

King's College, Cambridge[edit]

In 1982 Cleobury succeeded Philip Ledger as Director of Music for the Choir of King's College, Cambridge, where he also taught music.[4] He led the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at the King's College Chapel on Christmas Eve, which was established in 1918 and broadcast live by the BBC from 1928.[1] Cleobury's most notable contribution was, from 1984, the incorporation of specially commissioned modern works to complement the traditional carols.[2] Among the composers contributing were Thomas Adès, John Tavener and Mark-Anthony Turnage. Harrison Birtwistle's The Gleam, which requires the choristers to stamp their feet and shout, caused some controversy.[5] The high-profile performance of these commissions allowed the widespread dissemination of sophisticated contemporary choral music.[7]

Cleobury introduced singing lessons for the choristers and expanded the repertoire to include more singing in Latin,[6] and composers such as Kodály, Janáček and Arvo Pärt.[5] He established the Festival of Easter at King's and also Concerts at King's, a concert series throughout the year.[1][2] Recordings were made by the choir's own label beginning in 2012.[5]

He was conductor of Cambridge University Musical Society (CUMS) from 1983 to 2009, and made many recordings with that group including Verdi's Quattro Pezzi Sacri and Goehr's The Death of Moses. As part of the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of Cambridge University, he premiered Peter Maxwell Davies' The Sorcerer's Mirror.[4]

Choir stalls and Great Organ, viewed from the east end, at King's College Chapel

His last major project there was Bach's St Matthew Passion in 2019, in a sequence of performing it alternating with the St John Passion every year. The choir performed with the Academy of Ancient Music and James Gilchrist as the Evangelist.[8] He retired on 30 September 2019, and was succeeded at King's College by Daniel Hyde.[4][9]

Beyond Cambridge[edit]

Cleobury was president of the Royal College of Organists from 1990 to 1992. He was chief conductor of the BBC Singers from 1995 to 2007, and was then their conductor laureate.[4] He performed with them themed concerts such as Shostakovich, Stalin and Soviet Russia in 2014, Creation songs in 2015, Tallis Lamentations in 2016, and for Remembrance Day 2017, Songs of Farewell.[10] The latter was given at the King's College Chapel, and combined the world premiere of Thomas Simaku's The Scream with Hubert Parry's Songs of Farewell, and Duruflé's Notre Père and Requiem.[11] In the concert celebrating the choir's 90th anniversary on 24 September 2014, he was one of four conductors to lead compositions written for the group.[12] Cleobury served as a visiting fellow at the Louisiana State University School of Music for 2013–2014.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Cleobury's brother Nicholas is also a conductor and his sister is a musician and teacher. His cousin Stephen Dean is a composer.[14] Cleobury lived with his second wife, Emma Disley, whom he married in 2004, and their two daughters.[4][15] He died of cancer in his hometown of York, on 22 November 2019, the liturgical feast day of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of organ players and musicians.[2][5] He also had two children from his first marriage to Penny Holloway.[5]

Honours and awards[edit]

Cleobury was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Music (D.Mus.) from Anglia Ruskin University in 2001.[16] In 2008 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal School of Church Music.[4][17] He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours[18][19] and was knighted in the 2019 Birthday Honours for services to choral music.[2][20][21]



As conductor[edit]

As organist[edit]

  • 2019 – Herbert Howells’ An English Mass [63][64]
  • 2017 – The King of Instruments: A Voice Reborn [65]
  • 2009 – The Grand Organ of King's College[66]
  • 2007 – Organ Classics from King's[67]
  • 2004 – British Organ Music from King's[68]
  • 1993 – Organ Favourites from King's College, Cambridge[69]


As conductor:

  • 2014 – Carols from King's (Choir of King's College, Cambridge)[70]
  • 2002 – Anthems from King's (Choir of King's College, Cambridge)[71]
  • 1996 – Bach: "Johannes-Passion" (Choir of King's College, Cambridge)[72][73]
  • 1993 – Handel: "Messiah" (Choir of King's College, Cambridge)[74]


  1. ^ a b c Sir Stephen Cleobury: Former King's College choir conductor dies aged 70 BBC 23 November 2019
  2. ^ a b c d e "Sir Stephen Cleobury (1948–2019)". King's College, Cambridge. Retrieved 23 November 2019.
  3. ^ "Reign of King's", BBC Music Magazine (Christmas 2018 ed.), p. 38, 29 November 2018
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Paul Brackley: Sir Stephen Cleobury, who directed the famous choir at King’s College in Cambridge, dies at 70 Cambridge Independent 23 November 2019
  5. ^ a b c d e f Millington, Barry (24 November 2019). "Sir Stephen Cleobury obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Obituary, Stephen Cleobury: In the bleak midwinter". The Economist. 21 December 2019.
  7. ^ Wickham, Edward (6 December 2019). "Obituary: Sir Stephen Cleobury". Church Times. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
  8. ^ Alec Spencer: Final Passion for director of music at King's Cambridge Independent 26 March 2019
  9. ^ Martin Cullingford: King's College Cambridge names Daniel Hyde as new music director Gramophone 23 May 2018
  10. ^ "Performances of Stephen Cleobury at BBC Singers". BBC. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  11. ^ "Songs of Farewell". BBC. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  12. ^ "Singers at Six: BBC Singers at 90". BBC. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  13. ^ "LSU School of Music Appoints Stephen Cleobury as 2013–14 Visiting Fellow". Archived from the original on 3 April 2013. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  14. ^ "Stephen Cleobury biography". Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  15. ^ "Life Outside Cambridge". Retrieved 1 January 2016.
  16. ^ Honorary award holders: Dr Stephen John Cleobury (1948 - 2019) CBE - website of Anglia Ruskin University
  17. ^ "RCM Awarded". Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  18. ^ "No. 59090". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 2009. p. 7.
  19. ^ "Knights Bachelor : Knighthoods" (PDF). Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  20. ^ "No. 62666". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 June 2019. p. B2.
  21. ^ Maguire, Samar (7 June 2019). "All the people from Cambridgeshire on the Queen's Birthday honours list 2019". Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  22. ^ "Bach: St Matthew Passion".
  23. ^ "Evensong Live 2019: Anthems and Canticles".
  24. ^ Clements, Andrew (13 June 2019). "Howells: An English Mass; Cello Concerto; Te Deum etc review – Cleobury's distinctive final offering". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  25. ^ "The Music of King's: Choral Favourites from Cambridge".
  26. ^ "100 Years of Nine Lessons and Carols". Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  27. ^ "Byrd Motets". June 2018. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  28. ^ Music video for Chinese poem that celebrates Cambridge[dead link] The Daily Telegraph
  29. ^ Quantrill, Peter (20 December 2017). "VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Dona Nobis Pacem BERNSTEIN Chichester Psalms". Gramophone. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  30. ^ David Vickers: JS BACH St John Passion (Live) Gramophone 2017
  31. ^ "Evensong Live 2016".
  32. ^ "Hymns from King's".
  33. ^ "1615 Gabrieli in Venice".
  34. ^ "Evensong Live 2015".
  35. ^ "English Hymn Anthems".
  36. ^ "Favourite Carols from King's". December 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  37. ^ John Quinn: Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924) / Requiem October 2014
  38. ^ "Britten Saint Nicolas | King's College Cambridge".
  39. ^ "Mozart Requiem: Realisations".
  40. ^ "Nine Lessons & Carols".
  41. ^ "I Heard a Voice: The Music of the Golden Age – Stephen Cleobury, Fretwork, King's College Choir of Cambridge | Releases". AllMusic.
  42. ^ "Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem – Stephen Cleobury, King's College Choir of Cambridge | Credits". AllMusic.
  43. ^ Jonathan Freeman-Attwood: Bach St John Passion Gramophone 2003
  44. ^ "Bach: St. John Passion – King's College Choir of Cambridge, Stephen Cleobury | Release Info". AllMusic.
  45. ^ Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) / Gloria In D Major RV589 / Dixit Dominus In D Major RV 594 / Magnificat In G Minor RV 610 April 2002
  46. ^ "The british music collection: herbert howells: cambridge king's college choir, cleobury by Howells, Herbert, CD with melomaan".
  47. ^ Rachmaninov: Vespers / Cleobury, King's College Choir
  48. ^ Kemp, Lindsay (9 January 2013). "Handel Israel in Egypt". Gramophone.
  49. ^ Warrack, John (9 January 2013). "Rachmaninov Vespers". Gramophone.
  50. ^ "Best Loved Hymns – Stephen Cleobury, King's College Choir of Cambridge, Wallace Collection | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic.
  51. ^ Handel: Israel In Egypt / Bostridge, Chance, Cleobury, Et Al
  52. ^ Rutter: Requiem / Cleobury, King's College Choir Cambridge
  53. ^ Stanford: Evening Services in C & G etc / by Stephen Cleobury, Choir Of King's College, Cambridge
  54. ^ "The King's Collection – Stephen Cleobury | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic.
  55. ^ Allegri / Miserere Deutsche Grammophon
  56. ^ George Frideric Handel / Dixit Dominus, Organ Concerto No. 13, Laudate Pueri Deutsche Grammophon
  57. ^ Ikos – Górecki, Tavener, Pärt / Cleobury, King's College
  58. ^ Hugill, Robert. "George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) / Messiah". Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  59. ^ Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 / Conducted by Stephen Cleobury Bach Cantatas Website
  60. ^ Thomas Tallis / Spem in alium / The Lamentations of Jeremiah Deutsche Grammophon
  61. ^ Duruflé: Requiem; Fauré: Requiem / Cleobury, King's College
  62. ^ OCLC 659086835?
  63. ^ "Recent Recordings". Stephen Cleobury.
  64. ^ Jones, Leighton (14 June 2019). "Review: Howells – Cello Concerto, An English Mass – Johnston, Cleobury".
  65. ^ "The King of Instruments: A Voice Reborn".
  66. ^ "The Grand Organ of King's College – Stephen Cleobury | User Reviews". AllMusic.
  67. ^ "Organ Classics from King's – Stephen Cleobury | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic.
  68. ^ "British Organ Music from King's – Stephen Cleobury | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic.
  69. ^ "Stephen Cleobury – Bach's Instrumental Works – Discography".
  70. ^ "Carols from King's (DVD)".
  71. ^ "Anthems from King's:English choral favourites". Presto Classical.
  72. ^ Freeman-Attwood, Jonathan (9 January 2013). "Bach St John Passion". Gramophone.
  73. ^ "Johannes-Passion BWV 245 – conducted by Stephen Cleobury".
  74. ^ "Handel Messiah Cleobury BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94127[RH]: Classical Music Reviews – August 2011 MusicWeb-International".

External links[edit]

Preceded by Director of Music, King's College, Cambridge
Succeeded by