Six conductors of the Nine Lessons
The half-dozen King’s College Choir directors since 1918
1876-1929 Arthur Henry Mann
The founder-director of King’s Nine Lessons festival stayed with the choir until his death, transforming it from Cambridge’s worst to one of the world’s finest. Among his achievements there was to persuade the powers that be to set up the college’s choir school. Away from King’s, Mann was the first to publish a singing edition of Tallis’s 40-part motet Spem in alium.
1929-57 Boris Ord
The composer of the perennial Adam lay y-bounden, his only published carol, consolidated Mann’s work, taking the choir to new heights with demands for the highest professional standards. He also insisted they sing a wide range of repertoire from early music to contemporary works.
1941-45 Harold Darke (Boris Ord’s substitute during World War II)
Darke took the reins for the years that Ord spent in the RAF during the war. In his day, Darke was a formidable organist, his reputation stemming from his days at St Michael’s Cornhill where he gave popular weekly recitals. His choral setting of In the Bleak Midwinter was voted in our Christmas 2008 issue as the finest carol of all time.
1957-73 David Willcocks
Willcocks, who died in 2015, was born just one year after King’s College’s inaugural Nine Lessons and Carols. Among his many achievements with the choir were multiple international tours, radio and TV appearances and dozens of recordings including a now legendary disc of Allegri’s Miserere. Above all, it was his humour and warmness of personality that made him one of King’s most revered and adored directors.
1974-82 Philip Ledger
Continuing Willcocks’s great work of recordings and tours, Ledger’s principal legacy was his insistence on fostering a sense of occasion for every service. Ledger was subsequently chairman of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and was president of the Royal College of Organists and the Incorporated Society of Musicians.
1982-2019 Stephen Cleobury
Cleobury will leave the ship in fantastic shape after his 37 years nurturing and training generations of choir members. On top of his many achievements, his introduction in 1983 of a specially-commissioned carol every Christmas has proved especially popular over the years and will doubtless remain a King’s tradition. In 2012, Cleobury helped the choir set up its own label, which has since put out over 30 records.
Sense of occasion: Philip Ledger in 1980 and (left) David Willcocks