University of Cambridge Virtual Open Days

We are excited about the University of Cambridge’s Virtual Open Days that are happening Thursday (17) and Friday (18) this week! There are plenty of resources available for you to find out more about the University, particularly if you want to know more about the extracurricular music performance community.

You will also have the chance to ask your questions live to some integral members of Cambridge’s performance team on Thursday, via the Faculty of Music’s YouTube Channel, including our Executive Director, Chloe Davidson.

If you are not able to make the Performance Q&A, then please feel free to email with your questions.

Details for the webinar are below:

Performance Webinar

Thursday 17 September, 2-3pm

Faculty of Music YouTube

With Professor Maggie Faultless, Director of Performance at the Faculty of Music, Peter Foggitt, Co-ordinator of the Inter-Collegiate Choral Awards Scheme and Chloe Davidson Executive Director, Cambridge University Musical Society and Co-ordinator of the Instrumental Awards Scheme. The panel will be delighted to answer all your questions about Performance awards and extra-curricular music in the University. 

More information can be found on here.  

Congratulations on your A-Level Results!


Enormous congratulations to those of you who have picked up A-Level results today and are looking forward to joining us in Cambridge in a couple of months time. 

Hopefully by virtue of looking at our website, you’re interested in the diverse music scene at the University. CUMS is the foremost music society in Cambridge with regular concerts being performed throughout term time. In recent years, members of CUMS have worked with esteemed conductors such as Sir Mark Elder, Jac van Steen and Sian Edwards. We frequently perform in venues around Cambridge including West Road Concert Hall, King’s College Chapel and Kettle’s Yard. Our ensembles have also toured to Krakow, Tuscany and Amsterdam in recent years. With two symphony orchestras, a wind orchestra, a symphony chorus, chamber choir and more, we provide the highest level of music making in the University alongside a thriving social scene with musicians from a wide range of musical backgrounds.

We are currently planning to perform concerts throughout the 2020-21 season, however we are guided by Government and University restrictions due to COVID-19, and therefore cannot currently confirm details about the upcoming academic year. Please continue to check here on our website and follow our social media channels to hear any updates. Alternatively, feel free to drop me an email me on  if you have any questions you have about CUMS!

Will Rose – CUMS Student President and Assistant Conductor 2020-21

University of Cambridge Virtual Open Days 2020

The Faculty of Music is delighted to be taking part in the University Virtual Open Days. If you missed the Performance Webinar today, then there is an opportunity to attend tomorrow (Friday 3 July) at 11.00 am instead.

With Professor Maggie Faultless, Director of Performance at the Faculty of Music, Peter Foggitt, Co-ordinator of the Inter-Collegiate Choral Awards Scheme and Chloe Davidson Executive Director, Cambridge University Musical Society and Co-ordinator of the Instrumental Awards Scheme. They will be delighted to answer all your questions about Performance awards and extra-curricular music in the University.

Reflections from the President

A reflection on the CUMS 2019-20 Season from outgoing Student President Helena Mackie.

Like so many other societies and arts organisations around the world, the virtual nature of the summer term of 2020 has mean that CUMS members and audiences have missed out on what was set to be a fantastically exciting term of music-making. In the middle of the situation we find ourselves in now, it’s very easy focus on what isn’t happening, and lose sight of the concerts that have already taken place this year – and yet, as a graduating student, I now look back at those as some of the high points of my final year, whether in the orchestra or the audience. Somehow CUMS managed to schedule more concerts than usual in freezing cold venues this year, but the incredible energy of the players in the Baroque Suites concert in Senate House, with concerto competition prizewinner Sophie Westbrooke, dispelled at least some of the November chill — for the instrumentalists, hot chocolate provided by Old Schools staff did that job! Not much later in term, I had a huge amount of fun listening to CUWO play a light-inspired programme including the Star Wars music, conducted by the ever-wonderful and flamboyant Carlos Rodríguez Otero. Carlos also brought CUWO to a decisive victory in the Varsity concert with OUWO in February (not a competition, but we still won), and later in that week the CUWO schools concert produced a moment that has been memorialised in what might be the first ever CUMS-related GIF…

The lunchtime concerts this year have been particularly varied, ranging from Walton’s Façade to Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen to Rutter’s Wind in the Willows. A highlight was certainly the outstanding Concerto Competition final, and we look forward to having all the finalists perform concerti when restrictions allow. Another new venture for CUMS was the New Music Ensemble’s Zoology Late, where we swapped the concert hall for an immersive experience walking around zoological skeletons and specimens whilst musicians played compositions recalling the natural world.  Undoubtedly, my favourite memories from the year have to be those concerts I took part in — from Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ symphony at the beginning of the year, to Mahler 2 in King’s Chapel with massed choirs and orchestra, and my percussion debut (and probably finale…) in CUS at the end of Lent term. CUO principal trumpet Nick Smith’s outrageous solo in the second movement of the Gershwin Piano Concerto, and the wind section in-jokes in Bernstein’s suite from On the Town brightened up a week of cold weather, with hilarity continuing on to the pub after. Jac van Steen’s visit in February was a truly extraordinary experience, and I will never forget his ability to bring such beautiful colour and phrasing out of the orchestra, his attention to detail, and absolutely terrible jokes.  The end of three years at Cambridge and in CUMS, and my year as president, has come to an end at a very uncertain time for the world, and possibly even more so for the musical life of the University and beyond. What is certain, though, is that CUMS will continue to put on fantastic concerts in whatever way we can — just as we have been for 176 years. I can’t wait to see the results.

CUMS 2020-21 Student President announced:

We are delighted to announce that Music student William Rose of Queens’ College Cambridge has been appointed as CUMS Student President for the 2020-21 Season. He will be supported by new Vice-President Eleanor Medcalf, also from Queens’. Congratulations Will & Eleanor!

Welcome to our new Youtube Channel!

Welcome to our new Cambridge University Musical Society Youtube Channel, where you can be the first to watch concerts in our isolation series. The last two are available already, and the next one will broadcast at 7 pm on 14 May.

CUMS Student President 2020-21 & CULCS applications open

Applications to be the next CUMS Student President for the 2020-21 season are still open, as are applications for the role of President of the Cambridge University Lunchtime Concert Series & other committee positions.
Full details for all roles can be found below. Please note the deadline is 8 May at 1700.

Student President Application Poster 2020

CULC Poster advert 2020-21
CULC 2020-21 committee roles

Leo Appel & Kevin Loh

Last term Leo and Kevin were announced as joint winners of the CUMS Concerto Competition 2020-21, giving them the opportunity to perform with the University Orchestra next season. In the meantime, catch up on Kevin’s Online Lunchtime Recital for St John’s College Music Society here.

©Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Leo and his family have curated a Wednesday afternoon concert series An afternoon withe Appels, giving concerts from their home every Wednesday at 3 pm. Their previous concerts are available to stream on Facebook, and the next concert (6 May) will be posted in the same place.

Easter Term 2020 Concerts

We are deeply saddened to announce that in light of the ever-changing international health situation, many of our Easter Term concerts will not be going ahead. Our Cambridge University Orchestra concert on Saturday 2 May, Cambridge University Wind and Jazz Orchestras concert on Tuesday 12 May, and Cambridge University Symphony Chorus concert on Saturday 13 June have all been cancelled. We hope to include much of the repertoire from these concerts in our upcoming 2020-21 season. We have also cancelled our Easter Term Lunchtime Concert Series. Updates on our next season will be released once more information is available. 

If you have already purchased a ticket for one of our concerts please consider donating the cost of your ticket to CUMS or joining our Supporters’ Circle  – every bit of support will help sustain us at this difficult time. Many thanks for your continued support to Cambridge University Musical Society, and in the meantime please stay safe and well.
Student tickets to these concerts would have cost up to £5, and full-price tickets up to £20. If you felt that you were able to make a donation of a similar amount, CUMS would be extremely grateful. We are, of course, thankful for any support you are able to offer at this time.

The Visions of Elizabeth Barton: a feminist view of a forgotten anti-Reformation mystic.

By Benjamin Graves (Darwin College PhD candidate and CUMS Composer-in-Residence 2019-20)

The Visions of Elizabeth Barton was commissioned by the Park Lane Group. Its first performance was given by the Hermes Experiment (Héloïse Werner, soprano; Oliver Pashley, clarinet; Anne Denholm, harp; and Marianne Schofield, contrabass) on 16th January 2019 in the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London.

I included in the score a quote from Alan Neame’s book The Holy Maid of Kent, which perfectly sets the scene for The Visions of Elizabeth Barton:

“In January and February [1526] Kentish days are dark and the nights are long. As the candles gutter and the logs throw up their sparks, the Rector observes the Maid, and through his eyes the eyes of the Archbishop of Canterbury survey Goldwell from afar. And over all that passes at the dinner-table gazes down the all-seeing eye of Almighty God. Outside the winds moan, the ice forms, the snows fall. And inside, the Maid falls into trances and convulsions, begging men to renew their loyalty to God’s Church.”

It took a long time for me to devise a suitable text that did justice to the life of Elizabeth Barton but this paragraph suggested a solution. The “scena” is set on a cold winter’s night, at the dinner table of Thomas Cobb, to whom Barton was servant and gave her first premonitions.

Warning: the following paragraph contains mention of violent sexual acts. 

I first came across The Holy Maid of Kent in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which paints a picture of a defiant voice in opposition to Henry VIII’s Protestant Reformation. The more I researched Barton the more I realised her fate mirrored that of many women who stood up to patriarchal control.  I was reminded of Mary Beard’s London Review of Books Winter Lecture in 2014 entitled The Public Voice of Women in which she outlines the various punishments meted out to women who dared enter public debate, from Penelope silenced by her own son at the very beginning of Western literature (“‘Mother’, he says, ‘go back up to your quarters…speech will be the business of men,’”), to Beard’s own Twitter trolls today. More specifically, she discusses the nature of this silencing, from Philomela in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Lavinia in Titus Andronicus having their tongues removed by their respective rapists, to threats by those trolls such as “I’m going to cut off your head and rape it” and “you should have your tongue ripped out.” These punishments and threats mirror Barton’s own fate of being hanged and her corpse being decapitated. The aim of the piece, therefore, was to give Barton her voice back by setting her prophecies to music.

Continue from here having avoided potential triggers.

Beard further describes the act of public speaking in antiquity as being viewed as an exclusively male preserve: ‘as one ancient scientific treatise explicitly put it, a low-pitched voice indicated manly courage, a high-pitched voice female cowardice.’ So, Barton – as indeed were all notable medieval and renaissance mystics – was required to ‘man-up’ her voice to be heard. God was speaking, not Barton.

The soprano’s music, therefore, aims to allow Barton her own voice. Her vocal lines are signified “dolce”, modal in character and mellifluous, with extended melisma and ornamentation.

Opening line of Vision I from The Visions of Elizabeth Barton
Opening line of Vision II from The Visions of Elizabeth Barton

It is the ensemble’s music which expresses the turmoil of her visions and is best described by Thomas Cranmer:

“[God’s] voice, when it told any thing of the joys of Heaven, it spake so sweetly and so heavenly that every man was ravished with the hearing thereof; and contrary, when it told any thing of Hell, it spake so horribly and terribly that it put the hearers in great fear.”

Vision I speaks “sweetly and so heavenly” with combinations of clarinet multiphonics, contrabass natural harmonics high up in its range and a flowing harp accompaniment culminating in harmonics. The clash in quartertones only enhances the colour of the passage.

Bars 15 and 16 (Vision I) of The Visions of Elizabeth Barton

To suggest a feeling of the divine, the clarinet and contrabass in Vision I play an augmented chorale, the harmony evoking a cadence onto a major triad.

Chorale harmony from bars 10 to 20 (Vision I) of The Visions of Elizabeth Barton

Vision II speaks “horribly and terribly”, employing the clattering sounds of clarinet slap tongues and staccato tonguing on false fingerings, harp heavily prepared with thick layers of blu-tac on its strings, plucking using a thumb-pick and its pedals set in clusters, and contrabass ricochet. The ensemble sound is muddied by close double stops and glissandos in the contrabass’ lowest range.

Bars 53 and 54 (Vision II) of The Visions of Elizabeth Barton

This vision concerns itself less with harmony than with gesture and the rise and fall of waves of sounds.

Wave gestures from bars 47 and 52 (Vision II) of The Visions of Elizabeth Barton

The notes chosen are loosely based on the resulting interval of the clarinet’s downward glissandos. The top line of the example 27 is the extent of the glissando, the first being a major second. The second line is the harp, which expands this interval, in the first instance by one step, to a minor third and adds a seventh. The contrabass on the bottom line expands this still further, to a major third and adds to this, two sevenths. Any deviation from this pattern is a result of the harp’s pedal settings, so the nearest note was chosen.

I hope with this piece I have produced a suitable account of a highly important and interesting, but unfortunately silenced figure in British Tudor history.

The University of Cambridge New Music Group performs The Visions of Elizabeth Barton, along with works by Grisey, Kaija Saariaho, John Luther Adams, Darren Bloom and students of the University of Cambridge. 31 January 2020 at 730pm; in the Museum of Zoology, Downing Street. Click here for tickets.


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Cambridge University Musical Society
West Road Concert Hall
11 West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DP
Principal Guest Conductor
Sir Roger Norrington CBE
Artistic Advisor
Sian Edwards
Director, Cambridge University Symphony Chorus
Richard Wilberforce
Director, Cambridge University Chamber Choir
Martin Ennis
Associate Directors, Cambridge University Chamber Choir
David Lowe, Nicholas Mulroy