Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Academy of Ancient Music & Stephen Cleobury

Biography Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Academy of Ancient Music & Stephen Cleobury

Choir of King's College, Cambridge
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.

The 2018/19 season began with a concert in Prague’s Rudolfinum with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment as part of Dvořák Prague Festival, where they performed a rarely heard arrangement of Dvořák Mass in D major, and finished with a three-week tour of Australia, including performances in Sydney Opera House, Melbourne Recital Centre and Queensland Performing Arts Centre. Stephen Cleobury also made a final visit as Director of Music with the Choir to USA in April to perform in Cathedral of Saint Paul, Minneapolis, Washington National Cathedral and St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York City. The Choir joined the St Thomas Church choir in a service, directed by Daniel Hyde who took over from Cleobury in September 2019. Hyde will conduct the Choir in London for the first time on 16 December 2019 with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Crouch End Festival Chorus at the Barbican Centre.

In addition to the Choir’s back-catalogue of more than 100 albums released with EMI and Decca, King's launched its own record label in 2012, which now has a catalogue of more than 30 titles. Many of the releases are recorded in surround-sound, and in 2015 the Label was the first to release a classical album using Dolby’s new Atmos technology, reproducing the acoustic of the Chapel. 100 Years of Nine Lessons and Carols was the UK’s second best-selling core classical album of 2018 and had the longest continuous run at the top of the chart of any album since 2011. In celebration of Stephen Cleobury’s retirement, the College released Howells: Cello Concerto & An English Mass featuring former chorister Guy Johnston playing cello and Britten Sinfonia.

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 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, Stephen Cleobury (1982). 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).

The Academy of Ancient Music
was founded in 1973 by Christopher Hogwood, under whose leadership the orchestra developed a global reputation for inspirational music-making which continues today.

The AAM performs baroque and classical music on period instruments, taking inspiration from the distinctive sound-worlds composers of those ages might have known. Founded on a combination of academic research and superb musicianship, the AAM’s performances have been acclaimed for their vitality and intimacy.

Over the past forty years the AAM has performed live to music lovers on six continents, and millions more have heard the orchestra through its catalogue of over 300 CDs: Brit- and Grammy-Award-winning recordings of Handel operas; the first-ever recording on period instruments of the complete Mozart symphonies; pioneering accounts of the Beethoven piano concertos and Haydn symphonies; and discs which champion neglected composers.

In 2006, Richard Egarr succeeded Christopher Hogwood as Music Director. Egarr has led the orchestra on tours throughout Europe, the USA and the Far East, and in 2007 he founded the Choir of the AAM. Recent recordings include a complete cycle of Handel’s Opp.1-7 instrumental music, released to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death, and the world-premiere recording of music by seventeenth-century English composer Christopher Gibbons. In June 2012 the AAM was invited to perform at the Queen’s Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant; and in summer 2013 the AAM was Resident Ensemble at London’s National Gallery, accompanying the exhibition “Vermeer and Music”.

The AAM’s artistic excellence has long been fostered by a range of guest artists. Pianist Robert Levin and singers Dame Emma Kirkby, Dame Joan Sutherland and Cecilia Bartoli were among those performing regularly with the AAM in the early days, and a range of collaborations continue to inspire the group with new ideas and fresh approaches. In 2009, AAM’s long-standing relationship with the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge produced the world’s first live classical cinecast, with Handel’s Messiah streamed live into hundreds of cinemas across the globe. Ongoing work with the likes of mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, counter-tenor Andreas Scholl, tenor James Gilchrist and violinist Alina Ibragimova lies at the heart of AAM’s present-day artistic success.

From September 2013 to August 2014 the AAM marked its 40th anniversary with a celebratory season of concerts spanning the full breadth of the orchestra’s repertoire, from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607) to Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 (1824). Additionally, AAM Records, the orchestra’s own record label, was launched in October 2013, with releases to date including Birth of the symphony: Handel to Haydn, JS Bach’s St John Passion and AAM at 40, a limited edition two-disc compilation of the very best of AAM’s 40 years of recording. Forthcoming releases include JS Bach’s St Matthew Passion and the Orchestral Suites.

In the 2014-15 season, AAM continues its commitment to reaching the widest possible audience with series in London and Cambridge, extensive UK touring, and foreign appearances in Belgium, Canada, the United States, Germany, Spain, Russia, and the Netherlands.

The AAM is Associate Ensemble at London’s Barbican Centre and Orchestra-in-Residence at the University of Cambridge.

Stephen Cleobury
has for over quarter of a century 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 and the Philharmonia. 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 maintain and enhance the reputation of the world-famous Choir, considerably broadening the daily service repertoire, commissioning new music from leading composers, principally for A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, and developing its activities in broadcasting, recording and touring. He has conceived and 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. 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.

Between 1995 and 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 singers, all of whom are professional soloists in their own right. With the Singers he relished the opportunity to showcase challenging contemporary music and gave a number of important premieres, including Giles Swayne Havoc, Ed Cowie Gaia, and Francis Grier Passion, all these with the distinguished ensemble, Endymion. His many recordings with the BBC Singers include albums of Tippett, Richard Strauss and Bach.

From 1983 to 2009 he was Conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society, one of the UK’s oldest music societies, a role in which he has not only conducted many orchestral works, but most of the major works for chorus and orchestra. 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. His recordings with CUMS include Verdi Quattro Pezzi Sacri and Goehr The Death of Moses. As part of the 800th anniversary celebrations of Cambridge University he gave the première of The Sorcerer’s Mirror by Peter Maxwell Davies.

Performances as an organ recitalist also find him travelling the world. He has played in locations as diverse as Houston and Dallas, Leeds and Birmingham Town Halls, Westminster, Lincoln and St David’s Cathedrals, the Performing Arts Centre in Hong Kong, Haderslev Cathedral in Denmark, and Salt Lake’s huge LDS Conference Center, where he played to an audience of several thousand people. At the American Guild of Organists’ Convention in Minneapolis-St Paul in 2008, he gave the première of Judith Bingham’s organ concerto, Jacob’s Ladder; in the Messiaen centenary year he performed La Nativité du Seigneur in King’s Chapel. He has recorded Bach Clavierübung Pt.3 and the Leipzig Chorale Preludes for BBC Radio 3; discs of on the organ of King’s include albums of music by Howells and Elgar and Priory Records have released a DVD of popular repertoire.

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, serving this organisation as a Council member, Honorary Secretary, President and Vice-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.

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