Stephen Layton's commendation video transcript

Stephen Layton MBE

PROFESSOR KEITH MCLAY: Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Lieutenant, the Mayor of Derby, Honoured guests and Graduands, it gives me great pleasure to be presenting today Stephen Layton MBE for the award of Honorary Doctor of Music.

Stephen is one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation. Often described as the finest exponent of choral music in the world today, his ground-breaking approach has had a profound influence on choral music over the last 30 years.

Stephen was born in Derby and grew up on the Sunnyhill estate in Littleover. His father, who played the organ at Elim Pentecostal Church, wanted Stephen to attend a primary school where music was taken seriously. He found this in Ravensdale Junior School.

There, the inspirational headmaster, Wilfred Warren, flooded the school with classical music and created opportunities for pupils to sing and play in many ensembles. Stephen's singing voice was noticed at a young age, and he was offered places in several cathedral choirs. His parents eventually chose Winchester, and so, age nine, Stephen left Derby in term time to attend Pilgrims School, Winchester, and began singing daily in Winchester Cathedral.

As preparation for this very different musical tradition, Stephen spent time singing in St John's Church in Bridge Street where David Johnson, the organist, was an important influence and encouragement. Stephen subsequently won a full fee music scholarship to Eton College. In 1985, he was elected to be the organ scholar at King's College Cambridge.

While at Cambridge, Stephen founded the mixed-voice choir Polyphony in 1986. Since then, the choir has performed and recorded to great critical acclaim around the world, recently receiving the accolade, 'possibly the best small professional chorus in the world'.

Still the director of Polyphony, Stephen is also a Fellow and Director of Music at Trinity College Cambridge and Music Director of Holst Singers. He has held positions as Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Chamber Choir, Chief Guest Conductor of the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the City of London Sinfonia, and Director of Music at the Temple Church in London.

Stephen is regularly invited to work with the world's leading choirs, orchestras, and composers. His interpretations have been heard around the globe, and his recordings have been nominated for every major international recording award.

He has two Gramophone Awards and a further ten nominations, five Grammy nominations, the Diapason d'Or De L'Annee in France, the Echo Klassik Award in Germany, the Spanish CD Compact Award, and the Limelight Recording of the Year in Australia. He is an energetic and enthusiastic champion of new music and continues to innovate, taking bold and original steps and leading the way in the use of new technologies in choral music.

In the Queen's Birthday Honours list in 2020, Stephen was awarded an MBE for his services to classical music. Stephen is celebrating today with his father David, and wife Christine.

Chancellor, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the performance and recording of choral music and his championing of church music, we are delighted to award Stephen Layton MBE an honorary Doctor of Music.

STEPHEN LAYTON MBE: Vice Chancellor, Deputy Lieutenant, Mayor of Derby, honoured guests and graduands, it's a great pleasure to receive this award of an honorary doctorate but a special joy and privilege to be able to do so in Derby, the town of my birth and the place of my upbringing.

It is here in Derby that I was nurtured as a musician and a lover of music, so it is fitting for me to extend my thanks today both to the University of Derby for this award and to all those in Derby and Derbyshire who took such time and care to fire a passion for music in a small boy. 

I remember Ravensdale Junior School, the rich repertoire of music that the Headmaster Mr Warren played every single morning as we walked into assembly, and his knowledge and enthusiasm for it. And I remember the many recorder clubs at Ravensdale that gave me experience of playing ensembles with other people. I remember David Johnson, the organist of Saint John's Church in Bridge Street, and the high standards of music and worship in which he trained me.

I remember too, of course, the wonderful Derbyshire countryside which I enjoyed most weekends with its exceptional beauty, going on visits with my mum and dad. And I remember all the teachers, the church congregation, and other community members who gave encouragement and training to me as a little boy, showing me not only how to play and sing but why music matters in the life of a community, of a region, and of course why music matters for us all as a nation.

And so, as I offer my congratulations to everyone graduating here today, I also share with you this message: every encouragement or support that you give to children and young people in your own neighbourhood, every skill or enthusiasm that you share, it really matters. Well done for all achievements celebrated here today and whatever your new knowledge or skill is, be sure to pass it on.

Thank you.

Stephen Layton's commendation video

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