The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, is Britain's leading university chorus, part of that nation's rich tradition of choral singing. It was founded in 1441 on the order of King Henry VI for the purpose of providing daily singing of services in the magnificent chapel he had built at King's College. To this day the singing of these services is the purpose of the choir, which also sings on other occasions, with orchestras, on tours, and on recordings. The choir comprises 30 singers. These are 16 choristers (boy singers) and 14 choral scholars. The boys all receive education at the King's College School, a major British boarding school. The choral scholars (and the two additional organ scholars) are undergraduate students in various courses of study at King's College, itself, and, therefore, members of Cambridge University.
The choir has worldwide fame from its annual worldwide radio and television broadcasts at Christmas of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It frequently travels to sing in London, often with the leading orchestras of that city. In the 1990s the choir made tours of South Africa, Australia, Japan, Europe, the U.S., and Canada. In 1996 it sang a Christmas concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall.
It has formed a recording partnership with the Brandenburg Consort, a period-instrument ensemble. This has resulted in CDs of Handel's Messiah and the two Passions of Johann Sebastian Bach. The choir also supports new music, and has recorded albums of music of Górecki, Pärt, Tavener, Penderecki, Stravinsky, Panufnik, and many others, and has commissioned works from Richard Rodney Bennett, Alexander Goehr, Nicholas Maw, John Rutter, Stephen Dodgson, and James Macmillan, and requested American composer Stephen Paulus to contribute a new carol for the 1996 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcasts. It appears regularly on BBC Radio. One of its projects on that channel was a presentation of Easter Matins according to the 1549 Prayer Book. It's recorded legacy spans the whole of music history, from plainsong to contemporary works. David Willcocks was one of the most famed of the choir's conductors, leading the group from 1957-1973. Stephen Cleobury assumed leadership of the group in 1982.