I don’t usually visit Radio 3’s Afternoon Concert for emotional support, but the BBC Singers’ recent studio tribute to Stephen Cleobury was a valuable hour for those many of us who still feel bereft after his death a year ago – which happened exactly a year ago at 11.45pm, still just in time for St Cecilia’s Day, as Emma Cleobury’s beautiful commentary to this recital reminded us.
King’s College of course swiftly moved to arrange a memorial service for their Director of Music of 37 years’ standing, which would have taken place in May this year. As we learned from the broadcast, Stephen had himself planned the choice of music. A couple of months later Covid arrived, causing postponement of the memorial event to a yet unknown date. And so this Radio 3 afternoon was the first public opportunity to commemorate a musician who was so important to many of us.
With Emma’s narration interplaying a lovely sequence of music, this was a perfect opportunity for personal commemoration, which hadn’t yet happened and was much needed. Perhaps it was actually better for serious reflection than an afternoon in Chapel, which would have inevitably have included a social, people-spotting dimension. Under current conditions, my dear former BBC Singer colleagues have come into their own. Fulfilling the government’s requirements of being professional singers (and how) with ample space for social distancing (take a bow, Maida Vale Studios) they are at present the nation’s most active and high-profile choir.