The English conductor, Stephen Layton, was raised in Derby, where his father was a church organist. He learned the piano as a youth. As a boy he was a chorister in the Choir of Winchester Cathedral, which provided him his early musical training. He then won a post as a music scholar at Eton College. He learned singing, music theory, harmony, piano, and organ, in addition to his other course work. He decided on music as a career and in competitive auditions won the position of organ scholar of King's College, Cambridge, perhaps the most famous of the British university chapel choirs. In this capacity he received a full scholarship to Cambridge, where he studied music, in return for participating in the choir's musical activities. As such, he appeared on several recordings on the Decca and EMI labels, performed on the BBC, and made tours of Europe, the USA, and Japan.
Stephen Laytonís first major conducting appearance was at Cambridge, where he led the choir and an orchestra in George Frideric Handel's Messiah, with soprano Emma Kirkby as one of the soloists, and conducted a university performance of Gluck's Orfée et Eurydice. Soon after graduation, he became the Musical Director of the Wokingham Choral Society, with which he has led performances of Edward Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, Francis Poulenc's Gloria, and Tippett's A Child of Our Time. He also served as assistant organist at Southwark Cathedral.
Stephen Layton established himself in the 1990ís as one of the leading young British choral conductors.
While still at Cambridge, Stephen Layton formed a choral ensemble in 1986 for a concert at the King's College Chapel. The concert was successful, leading to the group's establishment as a permanent professional organization named Polyphony. It was initially an early music group, but has expanded its repertory to other periods of music and moved its base of operation to London, where Layton now primarily lives and works. Polyphony debuted in the 1995 BBC Henry Woods Promenade Concerts in a newer work, Arvo Pärt's Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem (St. John Passion), with the Hilliard Ensemble, and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, with Les Musiciens du Louvre, and has returned to the Proms in subsequent years. Layton has conducted Polyphony in the world premiere of Oceanos by James Dillon (1996) and in Alfred Schnittke's Symphony No. 2 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall. He has led Polyphony in several recordings on the BMG Catalyst and Hyperion labels. These include MacMillan's Seven Last Words from the Cross, which won the Mercury Music Prize, choral music of Arvo Pärt, music from Percy Grainger's Jungle Book, and John Rutter's Requiem, as well as music of Gabriel Jackson, Paweł Łukaszewski, Francis Poulenc and John Tavener.
Stephen Layton was appointed the Musical Director of the Holst Singers in 1993, replacing Hilary Davan Wetton, who had founded the group in 1978. Layton records with them on Hyperion. These have included the world premiere recording of Christ's Nativity by Benjamin Britten, one of the many forgotten B. Britten works that have been edited and released by the Britten Estate. He led the Holst Singers on some of the releases of Graham Johnson's complete Schubert song series. In 2006 he was made a Fellow and Director of Music of Trinity College, Cambridge. Beginning in 1997, he served as organist and subsequently Music Director of London's famous Temple Church, succeeding Richard Marlow. In 2006, he was made a Fellow and Director of Music of Trinity College, Cambridge. In November 2009, the City of London Sinfonia announced the appointment of Layton as its second Artistic Director, succeeding the late Richard Hickox, effective with the 2010-2011 season, for an initial contract of 3 years. Layton is also to have the title of Principal Conductor. In Europe, Layton became Chief Conductor of the Netherlands Kammerkoor in January 2002. He has also served as Chief Guest Conductor of the Danish National Choir. He has also directed the BBC Singers, and the London Schubert Chorale.
Stephen Layton guest conducts widely, with among others the Philadelphia Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music, Britten Sinfonia, English Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Irish Chamber Orchestra, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia, and Northern Sinfonia. He also works with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Latvian Radio Choir and Polish Chamber Choir.
A champion of new music, Stephen Layton has given premieres in collaboration with many composers, including Arvo Pärt, Ades and MacMillan. His bold realisation of Tavenerís epic seven-hour vigil The Veil of the Temple, a new departure in British music, was premiered in The Temple Church and later performed in London at the Proms and in New York at the Lincoln Center Festival.
His operatic debut was in 2000, conducting the English National Opera in a staged production of J.S. Bach's St. John Passion (BWV 245) in a stage production with Deborah Warner. He has conducted choral and orchestral repertoire with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, Australian Chamber Orchestra, and Istanbul Symphony Orchestra. He has often appeared on British and European television, and has toured in Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong.
Stephen Laytonís discography on Hyperion ranges from George Frideric Handel with original instruments to Bruckner and Francis Poulenc, Arvo Pärt and Tavener, Lukaszewski and Whitacre. His recordings have received a Gramophone Award in the UK, a Diapason díOr in France, the ECHO Deutscher Musicpreis in Germany, the Compact Award in Spain and four Grammy nominations in the USA.