Sir Stephen Cleobury Life and Musical Journey In Brief

Sir Stephen Cleobury (CBE) is one of many names of notable British organists and an estimable artist of the highest caliber. Also, he is a prominent conductor of the orchestra and voices of the Cambridge University Musical Society. Specifically, he is known to be much recognized as a choral conductor and organ recitalist. Sir Stephen Cleobury was born on 31st of December in the year 1948, in Bromley, England, to the family of Mr. John F. Cleobury, also an organist, and Mrs. Brenda J. Cleobury.

Education
Sir Stephen Cleobury (Photo: gramophone)

Sir Stephen started his journey into music education as a chorister at the famous Worcester Cathedral. He was one of the organ scholars at St John’s College, Cambridge under the musical mentorship of George Guest, a Welsh organist, and choral conductor. Both Worcester and St. John’s College, Cambridge are renowned incubators for promising church musicians. He was a fellow of the Royal College of Music and has an honorary doctor of music from the Anglia Ruskin University.

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Career and Life

Sir Stephen Cleobury is a prolific musical conductor and his conducting engagements took him well beyond Cambridge and the UK. In fact, he has brilliantly conducted many orchestras, as well as choirs, throughout the world. As a sought-after guest conductor, masterclass leader, and lecturer, he frequently works with visiting groups in Cambridge as well as on his travels.

Dr. Stephen Cleobury attained his first position as an organist at St Matthew’s church, Northampton, and subsequently became sub-organist of Westminster Abbey, a position he held from the year1974 to 1978. With a golden opportunity in 1978, he became Director of Music of Westminster Roman Catholic Cathedral, before taking up his appointment as Organist and Director of Music at King’s College, Cambridge, where he also teaches music, in 1982.

Sir Stephen Cleobury and King’s college choir (Photo: Cambridge105 radio)

Sir Stephen did work for more than 35 years to maintain and enhance this unique tradition. Furthermore, Sir Benjamin has been a diehard in keeping King’s College at the very zenith of choral music. This he has done by upholding outstanding standards of performance and interpretation of choral music.

Also, he ensured that King’s Choir keeps being at the vanguard of every new technological development. He did replenish the choral repertoire, continues to broaden majorly by commissioning music for the world-renowned Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Sir Stephen’s broaden of king’s repertoire was also marked by baroque works and classical music performance with period-instrument and orchestras

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Sir Stephen Cleobury is a prolific musical conductor and his conducting engagements took him well beyond Cambridge and the UK. In fact, he has brilliantly conducted many orchestras, as well as choirs, throughout the world. As a sought-after guest conductor, masterclass leader, and lecturer, he frequently works with visiting groups in Cambridge as well as on his travels.

Furthermore, he was the conductor of the Cambridge University Musical Society, one of the United Kingdom’s oldest music societies, from 1983-2016. In this position, he was able to conduct many orchestral works. And also all of the major large-scale works for orchestra and chorus. Also, he was the chief conductor of the prestigious BBC singers between the years 1995 and 2007. At BBC singers he received more accolades for establishing a combined choral sound from this group of first-class professional singers. He remains the group’s Conductor Laureate from 2007.

Certainly, his conducting and leadership skills have paved several ways for him. For instance, he was a regular conductor and the honorary president of the esteemed East Anglia Chamber Orchestra (EAChO). The orchestra group was founded in 2010 by a group of long-standing musical friends. Most of the instrumentalist in the group are professionals that secure their living through music in different ways.

Work and Achievement

Sir Cleobury’s impact on the choral setting over the last few decades was indeed acknowledged by virtue of the regular and considerable commissioning of new choral works. Also, through the various organ scholars, he was able to train. Some of his trainees are now the music and choral directors of cathedrals and choral foundations across Britain and abroad.

Awards and Honours

He received an honourary fellowship award from the Royal School of Church Music in 2008he Royal School of Church Music. Again, Anglia Ruskin University, a public university in East Anglia, United Kingdom decorated him with an Honourary Doctor of Music.

On the 12th of June 2009 in the United Kingdom, Dr. Stephen Cleobury received the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours as The Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). The honour was given to him for services to Music as the Director of Music, King’s College, University of Cambridge. Also, on the 7th of June in the year 2019, Stephen Cleobury is awarded a knighthood for services to choral music as the director of Music of King’s College. The knighthood was in the Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday Honours

Also, Sir Stephen Cleobury CBE was received the inaugural “Lifetime Achievement in Choral Music” award on the 15th of July 2019. The award is the initiative of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. In particular, the award was in recognition of Sir Stephen Cleobury’s contribution to choral music. This span through his 37 years of service at King’s College as Organist and Director of Music. Also, for the part played by him as sub-organist of Westminster Abbey as well as Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral. He was the first to be honoured with the award for choral music by the organization.

Personal Life

In truth, Sir Cleobury was a man of exceptional energy and character. He normally stays at the organ side to meet and greet people with a smile. Thereafter, he would go to the chapel to listen to the organ voluntary by his organ scholars. He always wants to do his duty very well and thoroughly. Also, he always cared about how the thing is done in order not to inconvenience others. In fact, the director of music at Washington National Cathedral Michael McCarthy once said that Cleobury’s was not a showman and not egoistical.

He married Penny Holloway in 1928 and they have two daughters, Suzannah, and Laura. The marriage later ended in divorce. However, in the year 2004, sir Cleobury married Emma Disley Hebblethwaite and they were together until his last day on earth. Their marriage also produced two daughters, Olivia and Frances that survived him.

The prolific musician and trainer died after a short illness caused by cancer on the 22nd of November 2019 in York. He is survived by a wife, four daughters, a sister, a brother, and six grandchildren.


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