Although Stephen Cleobury (pronounced "clow-bury," the first syllable rhyming with how) has spent his career as an organist and director of English cathedral and college choirs, activities associated primarily with very old music, he has long shown a commitment to quite new music, as well. Cleobury got an early start in music as a boy chorister at Worcester Cathedral, then studied organ and choral music under George Guest, David Willcocks, and others at St. John's College, Cambridge. Named sub-organist at Westminster Abbey in 1974, Cleobury gave the premiere of Malcolm Williamson's The Lion of Suffolk at Benjamin Britten's memorial service in 1976. This was Cleobury's first high-profile connection with brand new music, a connection he would maintain through the coming years.
In 1979 Cleobury was appointed master of music at Westminster Cathedral, and in 1982 he added to his duties music director at King's College, Cambridge. From this position, he was able to commission a new Christmas carol every year for King's College's Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (often broadcast internationally). As director of the Cambridge University Musical Society from 1983, he conducted the first performances of works by Robin Holloway and Robert Saxton. This experience put him in good stead when he was named principal conductor of the versatile BBC Singers in 1995; that year he also became a visiting professor at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Cleobury has made many recordings as a choral director and as an organist, often exploring the less-traveled corners of the repertory. His younger brother is orchestral conductor Nicholas Cleobury.