Sad death of a great choral conductor, 70

Sad death of a great choral conductor, 70


norman lebrecht

November 23, 2019

News has been released of the death of Sir Stephen Cleobury, director of the choir at King’s College Cambridge for almost 40 years. Friends say he had been seriously ill for some time.

Fittingly, Stephen died on Saint Cecilia’s Day, in the city of York.

He was renowned the world over as conductor of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols which is broadcast on the BBC on Christmas Eve. He retired from his Cambirdge duties just six weeks ago.

In March 2018, he suffered serious head injuries after his bicycle was in a collision in Cambridge.

Tributes here.

UPDATE: Death of Westminster Cathedral Master of Music, 83


  • MusicBear88 says:

    As he died on St. Cecilia’s day, it seems he was needed to make music elsewhere. I had the privilege of seeing him live only once but it was a service that will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

  • Robert King says:

    An outline of Stephen’s distinguished career at King’s can be read in the tribute posted today on the college website:

    Requiescat in pace.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    A life very well lived and a wonderful job very well done.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    What a lovely musician he was…. I have many of his records in my collection, both LPs and CDs: every one was beautiful.
    Arrivederci, Maestro….

  • BillOxford says:

    Cleobury only retired from King’s on 30 September. I presume he realized he had little time left but worked almost to the end. RIP Sir Stephen.

  • Suggeritore says:

    He retired last summer. A wonderful musician and totally lovely man.


    I saw the service for Henry VI at King’s College Chapel, with Sir Stephen Cleobury directing his forces with utmost elegance and control, and yet projecting sublime emotion. It was one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life.

  • Jimbo says:

    A truly kind and talented musician. RIP Maestro.

  • Jean Collen says:

    I am very sorry to hear of the death of Sir Stephen Cleobury. He was a wonderful musician and will be very sadly missed.

  • Meryl says:

    So very sad, an inspirational musician with whom I once had the great privilege of having a long conversation. Christmas at Kings will never be quite the same. RIP Sir.

  • Yi Peng LI says:

    I know that it has been a week since the King’s Facebook page told me the sad news, but I wanted time to put together a comment.

    I am very sad and devastated that he died so soon after his retirement from King’s. I was hoping he could be a pillar to younger generations of conductors in a world that is getting increasingly dark. For him to die at the age of 70 is still quite young. With Mawby’s death coming after his it makes me wonder how long it would be before the other cathedral and collegiate choir conductors die out completely.

    There is something about hearing King’s recordings from his time there and hearing the Lessons & Carols broadcasts and knowing he is like a rock and a sign of continuity.

    I met Sir Stephen a few times when he passed through Singapore, twice with King’s. I also had tea with him in 2011 when he came to guest-conduct a local choir. He was a musician, gentleman, angel and an encyclopedia all in one personality. As such he was a man after my own heart. He was a kind man who offered me complimentary tickets to a concert he was conducting at the Esplanade and also helped my extended family have seats when I attended an Evensong at King’s last year.

    I was grateful that I visited him last June at King’s.I had an interesting conversation with him and I was grateful he was open to me keeping in touch after he stepped down. In fact I had e-mailed him with my thoughts after the Lessons & Carols service every year. I was so hoping to visit him again and bond with him further. I feel I could have learnt a lot from him.

    We will miss Sir Stephen dearly. The void he left will be hard to fill, at King’s and elsewhere.