“A crowning glory of our civilisation”
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music
"I love King’s Choir’s performances of my music."
“I would happily sit in King’s College Chapel listening to this choir sing for the rest of my days.”
CHOIR OF KING'S COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge is undoubtedly one of the world’s best known choral groups; every Christmas Eve millions of people worldwide tune into A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a televised service that has been broadcast by the BBC since 1928. In the United States, the service has been broadcast by American Public Media since 1982. While the Choir exists primarily to sing the daily services in King’s College Chapel, its worldwide fame and reputation, enhanced by an extensive recording catalogue, has led to invitations to perform around the globe. Due to academic commitments of the members of the Choir, it performs fewer than 20 concerts outside of the Chapel each year.
In the past several years, the Choir has travelled throughout Europe as well as to the US, South America, Australia and Asia-Pacific. Performances have been given at the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Santa Cecilia (Rome), Musée d’Orsay (Paris), Dijon Opera, Casa da Música Festival (Porto), Stresa Festival, Musikfest Bremen, Rotterdam Gergiev Festival, National Cathedral (Washington), Shanghai Concert Hall, National Centre for the Performing Arts (Beijing), Hong Kong Cultural Centre, National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Centre (Taiwan) and the Singapore Esplanade, to name just a few.
The Choir has appeared regularly at all the major halls in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Recent festival appearances have seen the Choir at The Sage, Gateshead, the City of London Festival, Chester Music Festival, Windsor Festival, Kings Place, St Albans International Organ Festival, Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Aldeburgh Music, and there have been return invitations to Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, Symphony Hall, Birmingham and St David’s Hall, Cardiff amongst others. Earlier in 2013 the Choir went to 10 Downing Street to sing at the Prime Minister’s Easter reception.
The Choir appears frequently with symphony orchestras; it sang with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms in 2005, closed its 2005/6 season performing with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, joined other Cambridge artists, ensembles and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2009 for a BBC Prom to mark Cambridge University’s 800th Anniversary and gives an annual Christmas concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall. There have been two recent appearances with the Philharmonia Orchestra including a UK premiere of Arvo Pärt’s Adam’s Lament. In addition, the Choir has a close relationship with the Academy of Ancient Music and Britten Sinfonia. In August and October 2010 the Choir was delighted to join the Academy of Ancient Music performing Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers at Festivals throughout France and at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.
In the 2013/14 season the Choir’s appearances include performances at the Esplanade, Singapore; National Centre for Performing Arts, Beijing and Hong Kong City Hall, performances with Britten Sinfonia at Symphony Hall, Birmingham and Barbican, London and with the Philharmonia Orchestra at Bedford Corn Exchange; a tour to Australia, including performances in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. In Cambridge, they will perform a concert with ex-King’s choral scholar, Gerard Finley, and will perform Handel Israel in Egypt and Bach St Matthew Passion as part of the Easter at King’s Festival. Future plans for the Choir involve return tours to the USA in spring 2015 and a tour of European festivals in summer 2015.
In October 2012, the College launched its own label with Nine Lessons & Carols – a two-disc recording of the famous Christmas Eve service. The album includes seven carols commissioned for the Choir, including five world-premiere recordings. In April 2013, the Choir’s second album was released - a two-disc exploration of Mozart's Requiem, which includes some of the recent re-workings. In October 2013 the choir released a Britten album to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth, and future releases include a collection of British hymn-anthems and an organ disc recorded by Stephen Cleobury.
The Choir has a back-catalogue of more than 100 albums released under long-standing relationships with EMI and Decca. Recent albums on EMI include: A Year at King’s (2010), which traces the Church year with each festival or period of the Church’s year, and England, My England (2009), which brought together many English choral favourites including Zadok the Priest and Spem in alium. On Christmas Day (2005), a recording of new carols commissioned annually by King’s College, received tremendous critical acclaim, with BBC Music Magazine commenting “King’s College, Cambridge, is a byword for the very best in Christmas music”.
The Choir of King’s College owes its existence to King Henry VI who, in founding the College in 1441, envisaged the daily singing of services in his magnificent Chapel, one of the jewels of Britain’s cultural and architectural heritage. As the pre-eminent representative of the great British church music tradition, the Choir regards the singing of the daily services as its raison d’être, and these are an important part of the lives of its sixteen choristers, fourteen choral scholars and two organ scholars who study in the College itself.
The choristers are educated at King’s College School in Cambridge and receive scholarships from King’s College to help pay for their education. The School has 400 boys and girls aged 4 to 13. The choristers are selected at audition, advertised nationally, when they are in Year 2 or 3 (ages 6 to 8) at their school. A chorister joins the Choir as he enters Year 4 (ages 8 to 9). For full information about King’s College School and the life of a Chorister, please see www.kcs.cambs.sch.uk.
Stephen Cleobury, CBE, is always pleased to hear from potential members of the Choir, choristers, choral scholars and organ scholars. Those interested are invited to contact him on telephone 01223 331224 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge is represented by Intermusica.
Please contact Kate Caro at email@example.com for further information.
2013-14 season / 935 words
This biography is not to be altered without permission, if you need a shorter version please contact Intermusica.
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STEPHEN CLEOBURY CBE
Director of Music, Choir of King's College, Cambridge
Stephen Cleobury has for over 30 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, Britten Sinfonia and the BBC Concert Orchestra. 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 enhance the reputation of the world-famous Choir, considerably broadening the daily service repertoire, commissioning new music from leading composers and developing its activities in broadcasting, recording and touring. 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, which this year has already seen performances with leading artists, such as violinists Jennifer Pike and Rachel Podger and singers Andreas Scholl and Gerald Finley. 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. Earlier this year he took the King’s Choir to 10 Downing Street to sing at the Prime Minister’s Easter reception.
From 1995 to 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 professional singers. With the Singers he relished the opportunity to showcase challenging contemporary music and gave a number of premieres, including Giles Swayne Havoc, Ed Cowie Gaia, and Francis Grier Passion, all with the distinguished ensemble, Endymion.
Since 1983 he has been closely involved in the Cambridge University Musical Society, one of the UK’s oldest music societies, where he has nurtured generations of young talent. 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. As part of the 800th anniversary celebrations of Cambridge University in 2009 he gave the premiere of The Sorcerer’s Mirror by Peter Maxwell Davies.
Beyond Cambridge he is in demand as a conductor, adjudicator and leader of choral workshops: this year’s non-King’s engagements have seen him giving masterclasses and choral workshops in Baltimore, Salt Lake City and Baton Rouge, USA, in Hong Kong and in Sydney, Australia, as well as working with the East Anglian Chamber Orchestra, of which he is President. This coming April he will take up a residency at Louisiana State University.
In recent seasons he has performed as an organ recitalist at Sydney, Salt Lake City, Houston, Delaware, Minneapolis-St Paul, Geneva, Helsinki, Newcastle, Aberdeen, Gloucester, St David’s and Westminster Cathedrals, Wymondham, Bath and St Albans Abbeys, Great Malvern Priory, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, Leeds Town Hall, and at the La Verna, Rotterdam and Toledo Organ Festivals. The latest addition to his many organ recordings is a DVD of popular repertoire released by Priory Records.
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, of which he is a past 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.
September 2013 / 599 words. This biography is not to be altered without permission. If you need a shorter version please contact Intermusica. We update our biographies regularly. Please contact us if this biography is out of date and please destroy all previous biographical material.
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Recording: Mozart Requiem: Realisations
“This is one of those solid, balanced recordings that serves as a model of how the conscientious musician consults with the texts, history and performance traditions, crafting something that does justice to all.”
“…there are little moments of pure magic that break through... It’s these touches that make this album a keeper.”
“Conductor Stephen Cleobury knows exactly where he wants everything to go.”
John Terauds, Musical Toronto, April 2013
St Paul’s Cathedral, Minneapolis-St Paul, USA
“the foremost upholders of the English choral tradition... having a conductor as skilled and respected as Stephen Cleobury makes them something like those college basketball programs that contend for the national championship every year: The team members may change, but the leader remains the same and the results are almost invariably a success.”
“Thursday's concert was indeed a success, primarily because it was such an eloquent articulation of this group's raison d'etre”
“…this 29-voice male choir -- split about evenly in age between pre-teen boys and young men -- made it all flow together beautifully. The voices were rich in all ranges, the soloists strong, the dynamics captivatingly varied, the segues smooth between moods and volume levels”
“…the singers' diction and crisp, clipped deliveries were consistently admirable despite the music's strong emphasis upon long, soaring vowels”
Rob Hubbard, Twin Cities, April 2013
Recording: Nine Lessons & Carols (EMI Classics)
“…the level of achievement reached in these live performances is enviable”
BBC Music Magazine, December 2012
“The recording is full and warm, unmistakably that of King’s College Chapel. If anything is to melt my inner-Scrooge and promote a festive atmosphere, this two-disc release is probably it.”
Mark Pullinger, International Record Review, December 2012
Handel Messiah / Birmingham Symphony Hall
“At the heart of things was the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and every one of its 30-odd boys and young men sang as if inspired. Clarity, focus, clean enunciation and passion were always apparent, from pure-toned trebles to firmly projected basses.”
Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post, December 2012
Dubrovnik Summer Festival
King’s College Choir, Cambridge, cond. Stephen Cleobury
“The Dubrovnik Summer Festival audience had an evening that they won’t forget for some time; glorious voices in stunning surroundings”
The Dubrovnik Times, August 2012
James MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross
King’s College Choir, Cambridge with Britten Sinfonia / cond. Stephen Cleobury
“…I was gripped by a superbly atmospheric performance under Stephen Cleobury. The work’s formidable choral demands range from subterranean growls and eerie whispers to Gaelic inflections and shock discords that must be attacked with total confidence [:] the young choristers of King’s College Choir never faltered.”
Richard Morrison, Times, April 2012
Opéra de Dijon
King’s College Choir, Cambridge, cond. Stephen Cleobury
“The remarkable precision of their vocal technique was quite simply, extraordinary.
[Cleobury’s] direction led the ensemble perfectly, with complete simplicity and fluidity.
As for the singers, they remained completely loyal to their conductor’s gestures even though the second half of their programme brought formidable harmonic, rhythmic and melodic complexity! Hats off in particular to the youngest performers, who must be gifted with the finest of ears.
Some of the voices, whether child or young man, continued to resonate long after the concert ended, like treasures.”
Le Bien Public, January 2012
Shanghai Concert Hall, China
King’s College Choir, Cambridge, cond. Stephen Cleobury
“... the concert impressed the Shanghai audiences of the beauty and harmony of human voices in a traditional yet brilliant way.
Their meticulous gestures and expressions made the audience understand the level of their training and strictness. [The choir] immediately impressed the audience with a sound that was thorough and vivid and a sound which was also delicate and surprisingly quiet.”
Shanghai People’s Daily Overview, July 2011
Bach St John Passion / Cadogan Hall
King’s College Choir, Cambridge with Kennedy, Thomas, Wilson-Johnson, Academy of Ancient Music / cond. Stephen Cleobury
“…the sound world that was created on the concert stage was vivid, beautifully controlled, subtle and always in balance.
Stephen Cleobury conducted a richly satisfying account of one of Bach's most glorious scores - aided by some wonderful playing and by vocal and choral forces that quickly found their feet in the Cadogan Hall environment. The result was a musical, and a spiritual treat.
The Choir obviously know their conductor's every nuance of expression and followed wherever he led.
… the sound of the Choir got better and better the longer the evening progressed: 'Wir haben ein Gesetz' was thrillingly articulated, 'Lasset uns den nicht zerteilen' was precise, rhythmically phrased and taken at a great tempo.
The first and second verses of the chorales were contrasted nicely, the rich and bright sonorities of the opening lines giving way to hushed echoes of what had just been said and sung.
…like a great wave of sound, we moved to that incomparable 'Herr Jesus Christ, erhöre mich/Ich will Dich preisen ewiglich!' and all seemed well with the world again.”
Mike Reynolds, Musical Criticism, April 2011
The Northern Echo
“The Choir of King’s College Cambridge presented a programme of music spanning 450 years, holding a capacity audience at The Sage Gateshead captivated throughout… Sung with lines of purity, the layering of the adults’ and boys’ voices was brilliant. And the soaring high Cs were delivered with unfaltering confidence… All round an inspiring experience.”
The Northern Echo, January 2011
Beijing Music Festival, Beijing
“Their beautiful and refreshing voice impressed all the Chinese audience, and marked one of the most spectacular moments in the historic Wangfujing Catholic Church.”
Beijing Youth Daily, October 2010
“The choir captured the audience’s heart with its perfect entries, precise conclusions, its marvellous voices and the singing which was full of warmth and vitality.”
Recording: Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (EMI Classics)
“This is a live recording of King’s 2008 Christmas Eve service (readings included), the 80th since the BBC began broadcasting it. King’s College Chapel is a sizeable acoustic, but what’s specially striking is the intimacy of these performances, the choir under Stephen Cleobury excelling in the difficult art of dynamic restraint and truly gentle singing. Vaughan Williams’s Wither Rocking Hymn is a fine example, and includes some lovely solos. The purity of treble tone in Taverner’s The Lamb and the flexibility of the phrasing are also special.”
BBC Music Magazine, five stars, December 2009
St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York
“The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue on Friday, confirmed what many listeners think they know about the British choral tradition, but then gave listeners other things to think about too. The 30 men and boys led by Stephen Cleobury were scrupulously prepared, well tuned and musically alert.
Treble voices gave off a deep, full color a little at odds with the cliché of thin, white-light British choirboy tone. Noticeable to the ear as well as the eye was how young all these choristers seemed, even the tenors and basses. Singers just past or at the end of their teenage years had the tough sound of bodies not quite filled out; the tone, if a little raw, was also appealingly fresh.”
New York Times, April 2008
Recording: I Heard A Voice (EMI Classics)
"The Choir of King's College, Cambridge has been an EMI mainstay for many years, and Stephen Cleobury has admirably kept the torches held very, very high."
Audiophile Audition, December 2007
"The programme begins and ends in splendour. Weelkes's anthem Alleluia, I heard a voice is a dramatic setting of a visionary text from Revelation; the final item, Tomkins's O sing unto the Lord culminates in a sequence of "Alleluias" so that the recital comes round full circle...The famous choir sings with full-bodied tone and unfailing precision."
Gramophone, December 2007
York Early Music Festival
"For half a century or more, "King's" has meant only one thing in musical circles: the choir of King's College, Cambridge. But when it ventures out of Cambridge, it is more likely to be found overseas than at home. So its visit on Thursday promised something rich and rare. It delivered on both counts."
The Press, Yorkshire, July 2007
"For a festival that boasts Rolls-Royce as its principal sponsor there could be no more appropriate opening act than the Choir of King's College, Cambridge.
King's has always been the sleekest, most flawless of the Anglican collegiate choirs and under Stephen Cleobury they brought immaculate voicing and seamless phrasing to this programme of Spanish and English Renaissance music."
Evening Standard, May 2007
Recording: Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem (EMI Classics)
"The choral component is superbly sung and beautifully balanced, Stephen Cleobury directing the King's College voices with an unerring sense of long line and the sustained building of paragraphs.... a triumph."
BBC Music Magazine, November 2006
Mahler Symphony No.3 / London Symphony Orchestra / cond. Paavo Jarvi
"…the boys of King's College Choir, Cambridge ... sounded bright and fresh."
Financial Times, June 2006
Recording: Music for Queen Mary (EMI Classics)
“the music he wrote for Queen Mary’s funeral in 1695 transcends everything else. Has there ever been such music for drums? It strikes into the soul, as do the Sentences and the anthem ‘Though knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts.’ And King's know the secrets of this music.”
Daily Telegraph, April 2006
“In the repertoire on this new disc... Cleobury, King’s College, and the AAM prove currently unbeatable.”
BBC Music Magazine, May 2006
Recording: On Christmas Day (EMI Classics)
“When it comes to Christmas commissions…, the palm goes to Stephen Cleobury, who had the excellent idea, on his appointment as the Organist of King’s College, Cambridge, of commissioning a carol each year for the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols…The list reads like a Who’s Who of English composers.”
Gramophone, January 2006
“This is the one unmissable seasonal issue this Christmas.”
BBC Music Magazine, December 2005
“The diversity of texts and musical language in the carols is stimulating, the choir’s performance of them exceptional.”
Daily Telegraph, December 2005
King’s at Christmas / St. John’s Smith Square
“If ever there is such thing as a collective choral tear in the voice, King’s produced one for Howell’s carols…The Bruckner miniature was exquisitely shaped and resoundlingly fervent.”
“Tavener’s much-loved..'Little Lamb', emerged from a magical aural haze, and it was followed up by equally ardent renditions of 'The Annunciation' and 'Hymn for the Dormition of the Mother of God'."
Times, December 2005
Christmas Tour of the USA / Church Of St. Ignatius Loyola, New York
“In Poulenc’s Four Christmas Motets...the unaccompanied choir sang with its trademark impeccable pitch, luminous sound and unmannered directness…It was affecting to hear the sweet voices of these angelic little choristers as they grappled so gamely with the complex canons and stark imagery of spiritual battles in one agitated hymn from Britten’s work ‘The Little Babe’."
New York Times, December 2004
Recording: Frank, Poulenc & Alain (EMI Classics)
“...a day of three very different choral offerings, and the eloquence with which each is delivered is a fine testimony to the musicianship of Cleobury and his boys.”
Gramophone, October 2004
Recording: Rachmaninov Liturgy Of St John Chrysostom (EMI Classics)
“The men sound much deeper and richer than one would expect, but then under Stephen Cleobury’s masterful direction the entire choir manages to shake off its Anglican constraints without losing its famous precision to give a limpid performance full of peaceful introspection.”
BBC Music Magazine, June 2004
“Anyone at King’s College choir’s recent performance of this work in St John’s, Smith Square will have heard the spine-tingling effect of handing the soprano line to boy’s voices – especially trebles as well-drilled as Stephen Cleobury’s Cambridge protégés…A mighty contribution to the catalogue, benefiting hugely from the lofty acoustic of King’s College Chapel.”
Observer, March 2004
Robin Holloway, Brahms, Cornelius & Wolf / Cambridge Music Festival
“I would happily sit in King’s College Chapel listening to this choir sing for the rest of my days.”
Times, November 2003
Recording: Scarlatti Stabat Mater (EMI Classics)
“Austere but elevating, this is church music at its most resplendent, a spring reminder that King’s isn’t just for Christmas.”
Observer, May 2003