It is with great sadness that King’s College has learned of the death of Sir Stephen Cleobury. Following a long illness, Stephen died peacefully in the late evening of 22 November – the feast day of St Cecilia, patron saint of music and musicians – in York, where he had lived since his retirement in September.
Stephen was Director of Music at King’s for 37 years and was perhaps best known for his direction of one of the world’s most famous choirs. He was nevertheless influential in the music world far beyond the Choir, through his long association with the BBC Singers and the Cambridge University Musical Society. He founded the tradition of the annual commissioned carol for Christmas Eve which, since 1984, has made an invaluable contribution to contemporary choral writing. He 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.
During his long tenure, Stephen enhanced the reputation of the Choir and extended its reach by developing its activities in broadcasting, recording and touring. His influence as a teacher and role model to young musicians has been felt by thousands of singers and organists who have been Choristers, Choral Scholars and Organ Scholars at King’s.
In December 2018, Stephen conducted the Choir in the 100th anniversary of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast live from King’s to millions of listeners around the world. Six months later he was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to choral music, bringing tremendous pleasure to both the Choir and the College, and many more around the world whose hearts have been touched by Stephen’s work.
As Director of Music, Sir Stephen served this College with distinction for nearly four decades. On this truly sad day, the College community, and indeed many around the world, are mourning his passing with a profound feeling of loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sir Stephen’s family and the Choristers and Scholars of our choir who worked so closely with him.
Provost, Professor Michael Proctor