Stephen Wilkinson MBE (Music Director 1970-2009)
"In the field of choral music, Stephen Wilkinson is a genius" (Yorkshire Post)
"Simply a great choral conductor" (South China Times)
"No praise could overstate the merits of Stephen Wilkinson’s direction" (The Guardian)
Stephen Wilkinson was trained as a boy chorister at Christ Church, Oxford, and studied music at Cambridge on an organ scholarship. After war service in the Navy he was director of the Hertfordshire Rural Music School before joining the music staff of the BBC. For many years he was conductor of the BBC Northern Singers, “a choir to equal - or even outshine - any in this country.” (Edward Greenfield, writing in the Guardian about a London Prom appearance).
Many contemporary composers have written especially for him, and he has himself written much choral music, including Dover Beach, Betjeman’s Bells and Some Psalms, all premiered by the Byrds whom he conducted from the choir's foundation until 2009. Manchester University has recognized his work with an honorary degree and he was appointed MBE for his services to choral music in the 1992 New Year’s Honours.
Stephen regularly conducted courses for Chorale in Chester. 2003 saw publication of his choral collections The Other Carol Book and Grass Roots, 12 studies in folk song (both available from Forsyth and from Banks Music of York). Some of the folk songs appear on the Byrds' CD The Best of the Byrds . Many of Stephen’s compositions and arrangements are also available for hire from the Byrds’ library. The Sunlight on the Garden, his collected solo songs, were published by Forsyth in September 2005.
Stephen Wilkinson retired as musical director of the Byrds in May 2009, and celebrated his 100th birthday in 2019. You can see the celebration party held by the Byrds here. He passed away peacefully on August 10th 2021 at the age of 102.
Read Stephen’s final Letter from the Conductor .
"He was a remarkable man who led an astonishing life and will be remembered with admiration and affection by his large family, many friends in many countries, and all those who worked with him. We keep his legacy alive by singing his arrangements and original compositions as much as possible."
-- Rosemary Thomason, Chair of Byrds Committee