Stephen Cleobury has confirmed that he will step down as Director of Music of King’s College, Cambridge in September next year. Such has been the length of his tenure that it’s the first time the college has sought someone to fill the post since 1982.
In the intervening 37 years - as it will be by the time he retires - Cleobury has retained and built on the choir’s position as one of the pre-eminent, and arguably most famous, choirs of its type in the world. As well as singing at the daily services in the chapel, the choir tours and records extensively. Having released 100 albums on mainly EMI and Decca, many of which were made during Cleobury’s tenure, the college launched its own label in 2012. Its first five years have offered a superb insight into the choir’s breadth of repertoire, and even included a purely instrumental recording by Cleobury on King’s renowned organ.
The choir’s highest profile annual event is its Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast worldwide to millions each Christmas, and one of Cleobury’s most significant contributions both to the King’s repertoire and to the wider choral world was the introduction, in 1983, of a specially commissioned contemporary carol for the service. The initial intention was to engage the major composers for opera houses and concert halls to write for choir - more than three decades on, it's become a key part of the annual tradition, and the list of composers to have accepted the invitation embraces many of today’s world-leading composers.
The Provost of King’s College, Professor Michael Proctor, paid tribute to Cleobury, saying ‘The College owes a huge debt of gratitude to Stephen Cleobury for his distinguished service and tireless efforts and we shall be celebrating his unique contribution in due course.’
Meanwhile, in describing the job for aspiring applicants, the Chapel’s Dean, the Revd Dr Stephen Cherry well captured the essence of what is without doubt one of the most coveted of choral positions: ‘Choral musicians around the world look to King's for example and inspiration, and the pressures of the post are considerable. The Choir has developed its repertoire, and the extent of its touring and recording activity, very considerably in recent decades but the core of its life is the choral worship in Chapel that takes place every day in term. As we look to the future, the continued integrity and excellence of the music in Chapel will be a major priority.’