Tributes paid to former Northampton choirmaster who was director of music at King's College

Sir Stephen Cleobury was Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge for 37 years and was perhaps best known for his direction of one of the world’s most famous choirs.

Thursday, 28th November 2019, 3:09 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th November 2019, 3:12 pm
Sir Stephen Cleobury. Picture: Kings College.

But the 70-year-old, who died at home in the late evening on November 22, had also spent three years in Northampton in the 1970s.

Mr Cleobury made his mark on Northampton after he came to the town in 1971 following his graduation from St John's College at the University of Cambridge.

He was soon appointed as organist and head of music at St Matthew's Church, near Kettering Road, before becoming choirmaster for Northampton Bach's Choir and head of music for Northampton Grammar School.

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Concert manager for Northampton Bach's Choir, Mark Gibson, said: "He was with us from 1971 until 1974 before he went off to Westminster Abbey as a sub-organist before heading to Westminster Cathedral to pursue a role as assitant organist.

"Stephen was a guy who was bright in mind. He was fresh from his academic studies when he came to Northampton. He was clearly well informed and well educated.

"He directed us expecting very high standards in our singing, our interpretation and accuracy. At the time, he was quite a serious young man and was serious about his music. His wife, Penny, also sang in the choir at the time too. She and my wife sat beside eachother in concerts."

In that short time that he was with the choir Mr Cleobury taught many major works in the choral repetoire including Verdi's Requiem, Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle and Benjamin Britten's Saint Nicolas.

Mr Gibson added: "He had a dry sense of humour which sort of matched his wish to get his training done to a high standard. It was clear at that time he was destined for a senior position in church music or in choral music."

Sir Stephen Cleobury directed the choir at King’s College, Cambridge, for nearly four decades and founded the tradition of the annual commissioned carol for Christmas Eve.

Provost, professor Michael Proctor King’s College, said: "As director of music, Sir Stephen served this college with distinction for nearly four decades.

"The college community, and indeed many around the world, are mourning his passing with a profound feeling of loss.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Sir Stephen’s family and the Choristers and Scholars of our choir who worked so closely with him."

In December 2018, Stephen conducted the Choir in the 100th anniversary of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast live from King’s to millions of listeners around the world.

Six months later he was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to choral music, bringing tremendous pleasure to both the Choir and the College, and many more around the world whose hearts have been touched by Stephen’s work.