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Choir of King's College, Cambridge

Among England's famed university choirs, the King's College Choir of Cambridge has both one of the deepest histories and some of the most visible present-day activities. Its annual broadcasts of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, begun in 1918, have been an integral part of Christmas celebrations in many countries. The Choir of King's College was founded in 1441 by England's King Henry VI as the resident ensemble of King's College Chapel, a status it continues to hold today. The choir shrank during some of the tumultuous events of the 15th through the 17th centuries but continued to operate. By the early 20th century, it had reached its present complement of 30 members: 16 boy choristers and 14 adult choral scholars, plus two organ scholars. Choristers audition at five or six, join the choir on probation at eight, enter as full members at ten, and depart when their voices break. A listing of the choir's past members over the decades includes a virtual who's-who of British choral, vocal, and keyboard music, such as conductor Andrew Davis, bass-baritone Stephen Varcoe, tenor Mark Padmore, and composer Bob Chilcott, to name just a few. The choir has also directly spawned several contemporary choral groups, including Polyphony (directed by Stephen Layton, another alumnus), the King's Singers, and the King's Men, the latter composed of the choir's current Choral Scholars. The position of Director of Music with the choir has been notable for the longevity of its holders; organist John Randall was the director from 1742 until his death in 1799. Sir David Willcocks, director from 1957 until 1973, was a major figure in the revival of English Renaissance choral music. Since 1982, the Director of Music has been Stephen Cleobury. Always popular, the choir's reach has been extended by the general revival of early music; it has collaborated with the Brandenburg Consort, the Academy of Ancient Music, and other historical-performance ensembles as well as a range of modern symphony orchestras. The choir issued music throughout the LP era on London and other labels, but beginning in the early 1980s, a new association with EMI resulted in extraordinary recording productivity; the year 1990 alone saw the release of ten King's College Choir CDs. That productivity has continued in the 2010s as the group has recorded on its own King's College Choir label. In 2018, the choir released 100 Years of Nine Lessons and Carols, featuring both historical and modern recordings.
© James Manheim /TiVo
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