I had drinks with him in Kansas City some years ago, and spoke with him at King’s on several visits. And I had looked forward to him conducting Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at King’s last year, but he was indisposed and had a sub on the podium.
“If for nothing else, Stephen Cleobury should go down as the man who really recharged the writing of contemporary choral music – not just the Christmas carol, but the fact that his commissioning has affected how people write choral music. In all four corners of the globe people switch on the radio on Christmas Eve and hear a new piece of music.”
~Jeremy Summerly, CD Review, Radio 3, 1 December 2018
A fine voice is silenced. That he died on Saint Cecelia’s Day, the feast of the patron saints of musicians, is truly fitting.
Greetings to friends and family around the world. I write on the day of the winter solstice, and note with sadness that this world seems particularly darker than it did a year ago. I pray for light and truth to again be kindled in the hearts of those who lead, and who alone can set to the tone for this world.
May it be so.
Even with the death of my father in the waning days of 2017, my own 2018 has been significantly brighter than national and international news might allow!
Winter. A solo cabaret act. Loads of teaching and concert-going and the robust time of the year at the office. A quiet winter without any significant travel except for a quick trip to Naples, Florida to see Spencer go on as Prince Chulalongkorn in The King and I.
Spring. Begins with a trip to Moscow to discuss collaborations. Attend a concert in Tchaikowsky Hall. Tourist for full, long day in Moscow. Holy Week in London, with services at St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. My former student sings Gerontius at King’s College Cambridge. Wrap up the school year with a sizable graduating class. Pack up and finish work on my father’s estate. A week in NYC, and confirmation of a budding relationship. Solo/ensemble contest brings solid results. Senior recitals with three voice students. Attend the Tony Awards. Celebrated the completion of 10 years at Webster University.
Summer. Begins with a week in Lincoln at a conference. Then to Vienna on the Messing Faculty Award for three weeks of research and curriculum development. Side trips to Stockholm and Florence. Allergies abound in Vienna! Wept copious tears at the sight of Michelangelo’s David. Start the new school year with days of meetings, and a robust new-student class. Yufei visits Saint Louis. Start work with Variety Children’s Choruses as the new conductor. Celebrate my 57th birthday with a day of museum visits in Vienna, and a screening of The Third Man at a kino.
Autumn. Auggie turns 8. Sabbatical begins in mid-October. Accept a gig with Circus Harmony as composer and music director for the big January show. Start traveling immediately. Chicago with Yufei. Toronto and Niagara Falls with my nephew Luke. Washington, D.C. (pandas!!) and NYC with Yufei. Chicago again. And Christmas at home in Lee’s Summit with my sisters. Attend multiple Circus Harmony classes and practices. Conduct a holiday concert with the Variety Children’s Choruses. Attend Joffrey Ballet and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Over the course of the year I’ve witnessed powerful live concert performances. Viewed some of the world’s greatest artworks. Learned more about cooking. Kept up the slow renovations on a 100+ year-old home. Enjoyed some stunning meals (Stockholm, Vienna, Chicago, NYC all were gastro-delight locations). Worshipped in grand and beautiful spaces. Composed some decent music. Shot loads and loads of photos (I’m starting to understand light much better). Whipped up homemade plum jam and blood orange marmalade. Taken various architectural tours. Read more books than the year before, and also a big chunk of the Bible. Extended my cufflink-buying spree with a dozen new pairs. Imparted lessons about singing, and about life, with students. Loved on my dog. Caught up with friends in far-flung places. Bought more new eyeglasses. Fallen in love.
Not a bad year indeed.
May 2019 bring us comfort and joy and challenges that we can together address.
I attended a performance last evening of The Dream of Gerontius at King’s College Cambridge. The soloist was my one-time student Brenden Gunnell. Here we are after the performance, both happy as can be.
Cambridge, like most of southern England, was rainy and dreary, but a joy-filled place to be last evening!
Overnight, another 18-year-old was killed by a suburban police officer in Saint Louis County.
I am spending the morning doing laundry, listening to the Service of Nine Lessons & Carols from King’s College Cambridge, blogging (of course), and then making a dash to Costco to collect the ham for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner.
The fireplace is filled with flickering flames. My Christmas tree is alight. A lone candle burns in the front window.
And I’m texting with friends around the world.
So apparently, my dear friend Ken Rodgers and his lovely sidekick Ryan Hebert are taking Christmas break in Amsterdam, and have made their way over to London and thence up to Cambridge, and are now actually inside the King’s College chapel for the Lessons & Carols service. For choral musicians, at this time of year, this is Mecca.
I’m going to take the high road and contain my jealousy, thinking as a salve of my own attendance at the the Three Choirs Festival last year, including of course the Wednesday live broadcast of Evensong and the incredible splendour of the opening service and the singing of “God Save the Queen” and all those wonderful hymns. And the Gerontius. And of the visit on the same trip to Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.
I’m OK. Truly.
But, oh, those pictures from inside the chapel. I’m green with envy.
This afternoon = kitchen time, and finish the annual Christmas letter.
Lessons & Carols are at 4 p.m. at Christ Church Cathedral.
D will join me for the Midnight Mass at Christ Church.
I have prepared this morning a feast of eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, and cinnamon rolls, with coffee and mimosas.
And, as has been my custom for the last 15 years, I have invited choral orphans to join me at home. Many of us church musicians find ourselves away from family until later on Christmas Day, so each year we create our family of colleagues, friends, and fellow travelers.
The King’s College service is one to be shared. Today I shall share the music with three of my friends from church.
And Christmas truly arrives when the King’s service begins.
I’m just back from the Barbican Center, where I witnessed tonight a triumphant, energetic, all-out performance of Elgar’s First Symphony.
But first, Cambridge . . . .
Morning Eucharist today, on the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, was appropriately enough in the Nurse’s Chapel, more properly known as the Florence Nightingale Chapel. I loved the window and the oil lamp. (Click on that link; the window is the third picture from the left.)
And then I made my way via the Circle Line up to King’s Cross to take the 9.45 a.m. train to Cambridge. Once I arrived, I spent the next couple of hours at Trinity College and at King’s, in addition to a couple of shops. Now, I love Cambridge so much. It’s everything that I envision a British university town to be. And since it’s the first of those towns I visited, way back in 1995, it’s also idyllic and romanticised in my feeble imagination. (Like that British spelling?)
The King’s Chapel is the single most beautiful room in the world. Period. Nothing comes close to the centuries-old wonder and splendor of the fan vaulting and stained glass in this most amazing place. My poor pictures cannot do it justice.
A short cab ride took me to the home of Sir David Willcocks and his wife Lady Willcocks (Rachel). We were joined for luncheon by an old friend of theirs, Elizabeth, who was up from London for the day. Luncheon itself was truly splendid, and Sir David was in great form with stories and reminiscences. We later filled an hour and ten minutes talking about his life, and of course about Howells. I have the whole thing on a memory card. Let’s just say that when I left their home around 4 p.m., I felt like I’d been on Mount Olympus listening to a god.
Sir David is in his 90’s, but has amazing recall of events and places and people. Their two dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, long-hair Corgis both, took an instant liking to me. I missed Samson the Feist terribly all of a sudden. My thank-you gift to them was a jar of homemade apple butter. Lady Willcocks indicated this was something new to them; I do hope they enjoy it. And of course I had Sir David autograph his autobiography for me.
After the 50-minute train ride back to London, I made my way to the hotel, ate a couple of samosas I picked up along the walk from Waterloo Station, took off my tie, and then set out for the Barbican.
This was to be a concert conducted by Sir Colin Davis, but he pulled out of this gig a few days ago. I instead saw the youngish Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko. And damn, he was smoking on the podium tonight. This guy, all 36 years old of him, knows how to handle an orchestra. I regret that I didn’t get a chance to see Sir Colin at 85, as this was likely my last chance to see him conduct, but I’m glad for the concert tonight!
It’s now 11, and I have another start tomorrow, so the rest must wait.