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Sir Stephen Cleobury (1948 – 2019)

Everyone at FCM was deeply saddened by the news of the death of our President, Sir Stephen Cleobury.

Sir Stephen Cleobury

Stephen Cleobury was for over 30 years associated with the choir of King’s College, Cambridge. His work there brought him into fruitful relationships with many leading orchestras and soloists, among them the Academy of Ancient Music, the Philharmonia and Britten Sinfonia and he worked with many artists – singers and instrumentalists – of international repute. At King’s, he sought to maintain and enhance the reputation of the world-famous choir, considerably broadening the daily service repertoire, commissioning new music from leading composers, principally for the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and developing its activities in broadcasting, recording and touring. He conceived and introduced the highly successful Easter at King’s festival, from which the BBC regularly broadcasts, and a series of high-profile performances throughout the year, Concerts at King’s, which brings to the chapel many world-class performers, including in recent years singers Bryn Terfel, Andreas Scholl, Gerald Finley, instrumentalists Alison Balsom, Jennifer Pike and Rachel Podger, and groups such as the Monteverdi Choir and the Vienna Boys’ Choir. One of his most exciting innovations was the first live simultaneous transmission of a concert (Handel’s Messiah) direct to cinemas across Europe and North America. Recently, the choir started its own record label.

Stephen’s influence extended to many other choirs through the organ scholars he trained: the choirs at Norwich Cathedral, St George’s Chapel, Windsor, Trinity College Cambridge, New College and Magdalen College Oxford, St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, are all run by former organ scholars of Stephen, while other choral and organ scholars who have passed through the choir during Stephen’s time now pursue careers as conductors and as eminent organ soloists.

Stephen was until 2008 a member of the Royal College of Organists, serving as a council member, Honorary Secretary, President and Vice-President. He was Warden of the Solo Performers’ section of the Incorporated Society of Musicians and President of the Incorporated Association of Organists; he was Chairman of the IAO Benevolent Fund, which seeks to support organists and church musicians in need. He was appointed CBE in 2009, became President of FCM in 2016 and was knighted in 2019.

Sir Stephen was an enthusiastic supporter of FCM’s Diamond Fund for Choristers and attended our fundraising events at Mansion House, Sarasin & Partners and Liverpool’s two cathedrals. At Sarasin he took to the podium and spoke to the guests with great conviction of the wide benefits that result from fine training in singing. In June this year, although clearly unwell, he finally and very bravely decided to undertake the long train journey from Cambridge to Liverpool for DFC’s Reception at the Metropolitan cathedral followed by the Cathedral Choristers of Britain concert at the Anglican cathedral. That afternoon, instead of resting, he managed personally to sign over ninety individual certificates for us to give to each chorister participating. I am sure the children will treasure them.

Stephen welcomed our royal patron, HRH The Duchess of Gloucester, with whom he had established a rapport. He addressed the guests, speaking of his role as FCM’s President, and introduced James (Jim) Clark FRNCM. Jim had been a chorister at King’s and expressed with sincerity and humour his appreciation of all the training he had received as a boy; a training that had largely led him to pursue a career in music. He worked with Stephen many times, which he enjoyed immensely, and recalls specifically a concert at King’s when he played Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending with Stephen conducting the university orchestra, “A wonderful experience, that was”. We are sure that all those who witnessed Sir Stephen’s dedication, knowledge and professionalism have felt the same.

Sir Stephen will be greatly missed.