Internationally recognised as the pre-eminent representative of the great British church music tradition, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, owes its existence to King Henry VI who, in founding the College in 1441, envisaged the daily singing of services in his magnificent chapel (regarded as one of the jewels of Britain's cultural and architectural heritage). This remains the choir’s raison d’être, and is an important part of the lives of its sixteen choristers, who are educated on generous scholarships at the College School, and the fourteen choral scholars and two organ scholars, who study a variety of subjects in the College itself.
Today’s choir derives its world-wide fame and reputation from the annual broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols which is heard on radio by millions all over the world, together with a television version of the service; from its many recordings and from its international touring programme. In 1996 the choir went on a concert tour of South Africa and recent tours have seen the choir in Japan and Australia, as well as in many European countries; in March 1996 they performed to capacity audiences in Denmark as part of Copenhagen’s European City of Culture celebrations and in the summer of 1997 the choir again toured the USA and Canada visiting Barbados en route. In 1998 they gave concerts all over Australia. Early in 2000 the choir sang in Bermuda, and in July and August 2000 the choir undertakes an extensive tour starting in Hong Kong, and going on to Macau, Taiwan, Japan, ending with three dates in the USA including a concert at the Alice Tully Hall in New York. The choir also performs at major venues in London and next season they will launch their own series of concerts at St. John’s, Smith Square. In 1993 they made their debut at the BBC Prom concerts, and in July 2000 they will be performing a Prom with a programme of music based on psalms including Allegri’s Miserere.
Contemporary music is also an important part of the choir’s repertoire, and the College has a programme of commissioning works from some of the foremost composers working today; these commissions have included Dormi Jesu by John Rutter, Illuminare, Jerusalem by Judith Weir and Fayrfax Carol by Thomas Adès which were all composed specifically for the 1999 release of Nine Lessons and Carols. Other composers who have written for the choir include Richard Rodney Bennett, Judith Bingham, Diana Burrell, John Casken, Peter Maxwell Davies, Stephen Dodgson, Alexander Goehr, Jonathan Harvey, James Macmillan, Nicholas Maw, Arvo Pärt, Stephen Paulus, Peter Sculthorpe, and John Tavener. Giles Swayne has composed The Winter Solstice Carol for this year's carol service on December 24, 2000.
The Choir of King’s College has been directed by Stephen Cleobury since October 1982 and works with many distinguished soloists and orchestras, enjoying long associations with orchestras such as the Philharmonia Orchestra and the English Chamber Orchestra, both in the concert hall and in recordings. They are exclusive recording artists for EMI Classics with discs including Live Evensong (1992), English Anthems (1993) and Ikos, an album of works by Gorecki, Arvo Pärt and Tavener released in 1994. In 1997 they recorded a disc of Stanford with Evening Services and Anthems followed by Credo, a sequence of music by Sergei Rachmaninov, Igor Stravinsky, Penderecki and Panufnik, with plainsong interludes. An album of music by John Rutter, including the well-known Requiem, rose to the top of the British Classical charts immediately upon its release in March 1998. In 1999 they released a disc of S. Rachmaninov Vespers sung in Church Slavonic, which won an award at the inaugural Classical Brits for ensemble album of the year. Later in 1999 they released a special album of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, followed in April 2000 by Bach Magnificat (BWV 243). This double album includes many other choral works by this composer as part of the Bach celebrations marking the 250 years since his death and features pre-eminent soloists Susan Gritton, Michael Chance, Lisa Milne, and EMI Classics’ artist Ian Bostridge.