The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge is 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, which is the longest established annual broadcast in history, reaching 90 years in 2018. Additionally, Carols from King’s, a televised Christmas service also broadcast on Christmas Eve, celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2014. The Choir’s international fame and reputation, enhanced by an extensive recording catalogue, has led to invitations to perform around the world.
Highlights of the 2017/18 season included performances at the Vatican, Athens Concert Hall and a Bernstein anniversary concert with Britten Sinfonia in the Barbican. The Choir began the 2018/19 season in Prague with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performing a rare arrangement of Dvorak Mass in D major for bass and two cellos as part of the Dvorak Festival. Later in the season, the Choir returns to the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Birmingham Symphony Hall and North America. This is Stephen Cleobury’s last season as Director of the Choir as he is due to retire in the summer of 2019.
The College launched its own record label in 2012 with Nine Lessons & Carols. In 2014, the Choir’s recording of Fauré’s Requiem remained on the UK classical chart for 28 weeks making it one of 2014’s best-selling core classical albums, and the 2015 release of 1615 Gabrieli in Venice was the first classical album to use Dolby’s new Atmos technology, reproducing the acoustic of the Chapel. Recent releases include a critically acclaimed Bach St John Passion with the Academy of Ancient Music and Duruflé Requiem with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The Choir also has a back-catalogue of more than 100 albums released with EMI and Decca.
The Choir exists thanks to King Henry VI who, in founding the College in 1441, envisaged the daily singing of services in its magnificent Chapel, which remains the primary purpose of the Choir’s sixteen choristers, fourteen choral scholars and two organ scholars. A number of famous people have attended events in the Chapel including British monarchs, from Elizabeth I to the present Queen; political leaders such as Winston Churchill and Mikhail Gorbachev; and Charles Darwin, who loved the Choir so much that he engaged the Choristers to come and sing in his rooms when he was at Cambridge.
The Choir owes much to the five musicians who have maintained its consistently high standards over the course of the last 140 years: A.H. Mann (1876), Boris Ord (1929), David Willcocks (1957), Philip Ledger (1974) and, since 1982, Stephen Cleobury. Since 1870, the choristers have been educated across the river from the College at King’s College School and receive scholarships from King’s College to help pay for their education. By the time they leave the Choir they are able to take with them valuable musical skills, with many aspiring to return to the Choir as choral scholars. The choristers are selected at audition, advertised nationally, when they are in Year 2, 3 or 4 (ages 6 to 9) at their school. Boys usually enter the Choir in Year 4 (ages 8 to 9).
International Record Review, November 2014
Not only is it beautifully sung and played but the recorded sound on the choir’s own label is remarkable… It is completely beautiful and, in its sheer scale and immediacy, has a different feel from the benchmark recording by the same choir under David Willcocks… The ‘Pie Jesu’ is as close to perfection as one could hope to hear…
Times, November 2003
I would happily sit in King’s College Chapel listening to this choir sing for the rest of my days
Sydney Morning Herald, July 2014
...moments of iridescence… creating vividness in restraint through the unadorned splendour of this superbly polished vocal sound.