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Carols from King’s: famous Christmas broadcast to include a tribute to Sir Stephen Cleobury



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The new director of music at King’s College is preparing for an audience of millions for his first live broadcast of the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve (Tuesday).

Daniel Hyde took on the role earlier this year following the retirement of Sir Stephen Cleobury, who had held the post for 37 years. Sadly, Sir Stephen died last month, aged 70, meaning he was not able to see his legacy continue under his successor.

PIC BY GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY
PIC BY GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast live by BBC Radio 4 while Carols from King’s, the pre-recorded carol service, which is also aired on BBC television on Christmas Eve was filmed on Saturday (December 14).

Daniel said: “I think Stephen had always intended to stay away but I suppose I was thinking he would be listening on the radio and he would probably have sent me a text or a letter afterwards.

“I am now the only person living who knows, supposedly, how it goes and I’m also doing it for the first time. I know how Stephen would have done it and I know how the format works. I think it will just take a little bit of extra focus to make sure that I carry the can for it, because of course he won’t be there. Stephen himself enjoyed many years with his two immediate predecessors on the end of the phone.

PIC BY GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY
PIC BY GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY

“There were some times this week, filming the TV broadcast, where I have thought I would ask Stephen that question – how does this work, or what does that need there? And of course I can’t and that makes it feel quite poignant. It has been a very sad term but also, to some extent, there is a certain amount of relief because he was very unwell. And it was really no way for him to be.

“There is a great sadness for all of us that he won’t be able to enjoy a nice retirement and part of that would be taking satisfaction in the legacy of King’s and the choir that he spent 37 years nurturing.

“There are some things scattered around in the service that are a tribute to Stephen at the end of the television carol service. We have reshaped that so that there will be a tribute to Stephen with one of his carol arrangements, and there’s a greater focus on the live Christmas Eve broadcast – I think we have four of his carols in the mix there. He did arrangements of well-known carols and he will be very much there in spirit I’m sure.”

PIC BY GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY
PIC BY GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Daniel has also commissioned a new carol, a tradition started by Sir Stephen, and has chosen Philip Moore, former organist and master of music at York Minster, as the composer.

“I commissioned it for a number of reasons. I think Philip is very good, but also Stephen retired to York, which is a nice link. And when I was a chorister at Durham, I remember going to York for a choir festival when I was eight or nine years old and I remember Philip very clearly. I have been aware of his music and influence since then.”

Daniel originally came up to King’s College in 2000 as organ scholar, subsequently graduating with a first in music. He has directed the choirs of Jesus College, Cambridge, and Magdalen College, Oxford, and his most recent position was as organist and director of music at Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York. He will be only the sixth person to hold the post of director of music at King’s since the turn of the 20th century, and the ninth substantive appointment since 1799.

PIC BY GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY
PIC BY GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s has become part of the fabric of the nation. Broadcast live on radio from 1928 – including during the war years when the building was blacked out and the heating was switched off – it graduated to television in 1954, although it only became an annual fixture from 1964.

PIC BY GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY
PIC BY GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Daniel adds: “I have tried to programme a variety but I have also put together something that I think will appeal as a reasonably traditional approach to Christmas for my first year. It’s a big responsibility. I’m very aware of the need to make sure I cover the different expectations of many different people. But one of the great things about this tradition is that there is structure in it, the words stay the same. It’s the way in which you can choose music to interweave those spoken words.”

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is on Radio 4 on December 24 at 3pm, with Carols From King’s on BBC Two at 5pm, also on Christmas Eve.



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