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Final Passion for director of music at King's


By Alex Spencer


King’s College’s outgoing director of music will be celebrating his final Easter at King’s with a performance of Bach’s Matthew Passion.

Stephen Cleobury (7825158)
Stephen Cleobury (7825158)

Retiring after 37 years at the helm of one of the most famous choirs in the world, Stephen Cleobury will conduct King’s College Choir and the Academy of Ancient Music in Bach’s musical telling of Christ’s final hours on earth.

Due to popular demand, there will be two performances, on musical instruments true to Bach’s time, which will also be recorded for CD in the concerts on April 15 and 16. The Academy and King’s College Choir have previously recorded Bach’s St John Passion together.

Stephen said: “This year is going to be Our 15th Easter at Kings Festival and we have got in the habit of doing one of the Bach Passions each year, this year we will be doing the Bach St Matthew Passion.

Stephen Cleobury (7825160)
Stephen Cleobury (7825160)

“It has developed into an extended festival because there is a fantastic amount of music written for the Holy Week season.”

Artist in Residence James Gilchrist will lead a cast of soloists in the St Matthew Passion – said by Bach’s wife to be the ‘Greatest Passion’. One of the finest choral works, ever written, this tale of the Passion of Christ combines drama with devotion. It evokes emotional drama of Christ’s betrayal, suffering and crucifixion – recorded for eventual release by King’s College Recordings.

Whilst he won’t completely give up on music when he retires from his post as director of music, “because music obviously central part of life for me,” he is unsure how he feels about listening to the famous Nine Lessons and Carols performance by King’s College Choir broadcast by the BBC at Christmas.

“I think I probably shall do on the other hand I might find it difficult to do so knowing I’m not doing it myself. I honestly don’t know. The jury is out on that.”

King's College Choir (7825154)
King's College Choir (7825154)

Of the reasons he stayed so many years at Kings, he believes the pull of the building itself had a huge influence over him.

“It was to go into the great chapel, that wonderful building, on a regular basis and actually to have marvellous young people around in the choir - the children and the undergraduates - who have been so dedicated.

“When I first arrived there I was quite daunted by the prospect of what I had inherited because the choir already had a reputation and i knew people would expect me to maintain this. That gave way eventually to my being a bit more relaxed about it and being myself and doing my own thing.”

When Stephen retires later this year he plans to move away from Cambridge. “The whole family will be moving to York,” he said.

“I’m planning to move away simply because I want to give my successor a really clear run. I don’t want to be here and interfering or for that matter here and not doing anything and wishing I was. I concluded I’m going to be better off somewhere else.”

Is he worried he will cast a long shadow over the next director of music Daniel Hyde, who will take on the role next year, stepping down from his current position as organist and Director of Music at St Thomas Church in New York ?

“I don’t especially want to do that,” said Stephen. “I think the college has made an excellent choice in my successor and I am very confident things will go from strength to strength.”

Alexander Van Ingen, chief executive of the Academy of Ancient Music, said; “This Easter it is a special one for us and for Kings as it is Stephen’s last as music director. We have had a relationship for a long time. For many Easters we have always performed one of the great

Alexander Van Ingen (7825152)
Alexander Van Ingen (7825152)

Alexander Van Ingen, chief executive of the Academy of Ancient Music, said; “This Easter it is a special one for us and for Kings as it is Stephen’s last as music director. We have had a relationship for a long time. For many Easters we have always performed one of the great Bach Passions with Stephen and the choir and I’m glad that this year we will be making the recording for CD.”

The Academy of Ancient Music is an orchestra specialising in baroque and classical music, taking inspiration directly from the music’s composers, using historically-informed techniques, period-specific instruments and original sources to bring music to life.

“Stephen is an incredible musician and a wonderful director of music,” says Alex Van Ingen. “He has taken the choir and made it a choir with such incredibly high standards. We all know the Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s at Christmas and they are one of, if not the, best college choir in the world. So working with him is a real privilege.

Academy of Ancient Music (7825150)
Academy of Ancient Music (7825150)

“He has a wealth of experience and to know this is possibly the last time we will do a passion at Easter with him is very bitter sweet. It’s a shame we can’t do it with him 20 more times.”

King’s College Choir and The Academy of Ancient Music will perform Bach’s Matthew Passion at King's College Chapel, Cambridge.

Monday, 15 and Tuesday 16 April at 6.30pm

Tickets: £15, £25, £35, £45. Box office http://shop.kings.cam.ac.uk or call 01223 769340.



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