Death of an English conductor, 102

Death of an English conductor, 102


norman lebrecht

August 10, 2021

The long-serving conductor of two great choruses, Stephen Wilkinson died this morning at home and with all his wits about him at the age of 102.

He led the BBC Northern Singers from 1954 to 1993, and of the William Byrd Singers of Manchester, nurturing the careers of unnumerable vocalists.

He is survived by his wife Delyth and two daughters, the Belgium-based early music alto Clare Wilkinson and Zurich-based Stella, a violist.


  • Una Barry says:

    I was only with Stephen three weeks ago after my second jab, and sharing a glass of wine and lunch with him and Delyth, and spent some hours there. I owe Stephen a lot from my time as a student and beyond wIth him accepting me into the BBC Northern Singers. He had such a command of the English language and poetry, and I learnt far more about words and phrasing from him than anyone except Paul Hamburger – both BBC producers too. Always generous, welcoming, grateful and always kind.
    Musically he never took second best from either himself or from us! An enormous loss for Delyth, Clare, Stella and his kids from his first marriage.
    May he now rest in peace as this very special man in my life at a grand age of 102.

  • Rachel Barlow says:

    of the BBC Northern Singers under Stephen Wilkinson “a choir to rival if not outshine any other in the country”: Edward Greenfield in the Guardian

  • CRogers says:

    I well remember SW from several William Byrd concerts. A friend of mine sang in the tenor section and reported the atmosphere in rehearsal, which was that SW was challenging, engaging, enthusiastic and humourous. In performance he seemed very light on his feet and danced on the podium!

    • Una says:

      ‘Challenging?’ – he certainly wasn’t difficult, which is what is usually meant by ‘challenging’.! I found him just amazing, and if you knew your stuff like any professional, he brought you even more forward with an even better insight into the music. His knowledge was just wonderful and, as a young student, learnt so much. I loved him and loved working in that group.

      • Armchair Bard says:

        Una, don’t ruin it. CRogers here is clearly using ‘challenging’ in the non-pejorative sense, i.e. something like ‘setting a high standard’. Not as the more recent euphemism for ‘difficult/awful’ as in ‘challenging behaviour’.

  • Julian Elloway says:

    He also composed for voices very effectively – there are (or were) octavos in the Roberton, Banks and Novello catalogues, plus two wonderful collections of arrangements, ‘The Other Carol Book’ (13 Carols) and ‘Grass Roots: Twelve Studies in Folk Song’ published in 2003 and 2004 by Musunge Music in Leicester. I’ve also a photocopy of his manuscript of ‘That Time of Year: Three poems by Shakespeare’ that I think is unpublished. It is difficult to find most of these, but they are well worth searching out.