‘A unified team of soloists’: CUCO perform without a conductor

Aditya Chander, leader of Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra, gives his thoughts on the orchestra’s first rehearsal with Peter Donohoe and the thrill of performing without a conductor

Aditya Chander, Leader of CUCO

Last night, pianist Peter Donohoe joined CUCO for our first rehearsal of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in F and Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor. We’re performing these pieces, together with Mozart’s Symphony no. 25 in G minor, without a conductor.

Playing in a conductorless orchestra is hugely exciting. For me, the experience is closer to playing in a string quartet than in a full symphony orchestra: every player is listening intently to their colleagues, and responding dynamically and sympathetically to any musical gesture that is suggested by another player or section. There’s also a lot of eye contact, and it’s refreshing to look around at different sections of the orchestra (especially the winds and brass), rather than feeling you have to have your eyes glued to the conductor. Ultimately, though, the most exciting thing is the completely liberated sound of the orchestra. I’ve rarely heard CUCO sound so fine, and I think it’s due to the individual responsibility people are taking to shape the music as carefully and intelligently as they can. We’re playing as a unified team of soloists, and it’s making the music come alive.

Each concerto poses quite different challenges. The Shostakovich concerto needs razor-sharp precision in the outer movements to convey the highly rhythmical writing, and a feeling of intense grief in the slow movement, which features one of the most sorrowful and passionate melodies in the orchestral literature. The Mozart concerto certainly requires the same precision, but the individual lines are more undulating and complex, and the textures aren’t centred on the piano in quite the same way as they are in the Shostakovich. There is an inexorable flow in the music – it’s one of Mozart’s darkest works, and there needs to be enough weight in the orchestral sound without it sounding thick and sluggish.

We haven’t rehearsed the Mozart symphony yet, but it’s a fantastic piece with plenty of musical substance. It’s an early work of Mozart: he wrote it when he was just seventeen, while the concerto was written nearer the end of the composer’s life. While one might associate young Mozart with prodigal brilliance and boundless elation, that’s not quite the case in this symphony. The key of G minor is often linked with tragedy in Mozart’s output and, despite the virtuosity of the outer movements in particular, the Symphony no. 25 is no exception. The chromatic lines and plaintive oboe melodies of the first movement and the closely-voiced sonorities of the second movement, with its melodic bassoon lines and muted strings, give a different impression of the young composer.

Perhaps he was influenced by the Sturm und Drang movement of the early classical period: the moods change rapidly, and the fiery textures of the inner string parts suggest a prevailing drama. But, more than that, this symphony could be seen to prefigure some of the more tragic works from Mozart’s later period, such as the Requiem in D minor, the Adagio and Fugue in C minor, and the Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor which we are also performing. Indeed, the links to the concerto are more than just in mood: both pieces start with a syncopated string texture and a rising sequence; both have slow movements in the submediant major (E-flat major in the symphony and B-flat major in the concerto); and both have brisk finales with fast harmonic changes.

I can’t wait to present this programme to you with CUCO on 4 March at West Road Concert Hall. You’d be hard-pressed to hear a finer student orchestra in Cambridge, and Peter Donohoe said himself that even the first rehearsal was better than he’d heard many professional orchestras in concert. Book now to avoid disappointment, and see you there!

Programme Notes: CUCO 4 March

Programme notes for CUCO’s next concert with internationally acclaimed pianist Peter Donohoe are now available to read and enjoy online in advance of the concert. Thank you Declan Kennedy for another great set of notes! You can read more from Declan on his blog.

Mozart Symphony No.25 in G minor

Shostakovich Piano Concerto No.2

Mozart Piano Concerto No.20

Don’t forget to book your ticket in advance for what is guaranteed to be a fantastic evening of chamber music!

Applications open for 2017-18 CULC Committee

Applications are now open to be on the Cambridge University Lunchtime Concerts Committee for 2017-18.

Open to anyone who enjoys attending concerts and would like to find out more about how they are run, this is a wonderful opportunity to get involved in Cambridge’s most prestigious lunchtime concert series. Taking place every Tuesday at 1.10pm in West Road Concert Hall, these concerts showcase the University’s finest performers with a wide variety of repertoire and regularly attract a large audience. The role of the committee is to organise the concerts, including programming the series and inviting performers, as well as ensuring that everything runs smoothly on the day. Becoming part of the CULC committee offers the chance to develop skills and experience in arts management and administration, as well as being enjoyable and rewarding.

There are four roles available, each with varying degrees of commitment:

President
Concert Manager
Publicity
Front of House

Please see here for a description of each role.

To apply, please send a CV and covering letter to Alice Webster (acw69@cam.ac.uk), by 5pm on Monday 27th February. If you are applying for the role of president, the covering letter should include two suggestions of concert programmes which you think would be suitable for CULC and would attract large audiences. The new president will shadow the current President during Easter term.

Mahler Symphony No.3 Review

Paul Daniel credit Frances Andrijich

Photo: Frances Andrijich

 

‘This ability to cling onto every ounce of the listener’s attention rarely left the performance’

Read Thea Sands’ excellent review of our Mahler 3 concert with Paul Daniel on the Varsity website.

Interview: CUMS Composer in Residence, Jonathan Woolgar

Jonathan Woolgar

Jonathan Woolgar

Jonathan Woolgar, this year’s joint CUMS Composer in Residence, tells us about his influences, his compositional techniques, and the ideas behind Rattle His Bones, which will be premiered by the Cambridge University New Music Ensemble on 2 February

1. Tell us about your musical background. When did you start composing, and why?
I started composing as soon as I started learning the piano. Going to the theatre as a child was hugely important. It made me want to write theatre music – which I still do – and also gave me a fundamentally theatrical conception of music. The more technical aspect came later when I went to Chetham’s School of Music for the Sixth Form and had composition lessons for the first time. Everything before that was instinct and, very fortunately, some open-minded local teachers who exposed me to a wide range of music.

2. Do you have any particular musical influences, or is there a particular piece which really inspired you?
I’m not sure that the music I love most deeply comes out in my own music much at all, but that’s hard for me to judge. Pieces which have had a big impact on my life at different points include The Rite of Spring (naturally), Parsifal, Adès’s Arcadiana, Harvey’s Song Offerings, Kurtág’s S. K. Remembrance Noise, Das Lied von der Erde, Stockhausen’s Tierkreis pieces… Perhaps there are trends there? I wouldn’t knowingly or willingly subscribe to any particular style or school. I don’t want to be a “British composer” particularly…

3. How did your time at Cambridge shape your compositional career?
I was very fortunate to have Giles Swayne as my composition teacher while in Cambridge, and he shaped my music and my attitude to composition enormously. Highly orthodox though it is to say, the study of harmony, counterpoint and history at Cambridge was also fundamental, particularly in retrospect. It’s akin to a Christian religious upbringing – even if you reject the doctrines later, you have a much deeper understanding of Western cultural history. And some doctrines can be hard to shake off. But it’s better to have something to push against than to be floating in an arbitrary, zero-gravity sort of world.

4. Tell us about the compositional process for Rattle His Bones. What ideas are behind this piece?
The piece is based on a little chorale which I wrote, appropriately enough, during my time as an undergraduate in Cambridge, but which I never really got out of my system. The instrumentation is fairly unusual in a Stravinsky/Varèse sort of way (wind, brass and “rhythm section”), largely because it was a new challenge and I had been working on a piece for violin and viola duo just beforehand.

5. Did you come across any particular challenges when composing Rattle His Bones?
Composing is always a challenge, but in the case of Rattle His Bones the main challenges were structural. I have tried to create a narrative trajectory which doesn’t slot into a hackneyed shape but is still coherent and satisfying. The listeners can judge if I’ve been successful in that.

6. What advice would you give to aspiring young composers?
Have something to say and work hard until you find the best way in which you can say it. Question musical orthodoxies of all kinds – “new music” still has its own orthodoxies of course, though they’re subtler than they used to be. The Emperor is often naked, and that’s fine. And listen, listen, listen of course. Listen to everything.

www.jonathanwoolgar.com 

Don’t miss the world première of Rattle His Bones this Thursday, 2 February at West Road Concert Hall, in an innovative and exciting concert which also features music by John Hopkins and Mark-Anthony Turnage. See here for more details and booking.

Programme Notes: Mahler 3

‘My [Third] Symphony will be something the like of which the world has never heard.’

Coming to our Mahler 3 concert on Saturday 21 January? Be sure to take a look at Declan Kennedy’s brilliant programme notes beforehand. To read more of Declan’s work, take a look at his website.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Mahler 3

Programme Notes: Saturday 3 December

Take a look at Declan Kennedy’s brilliant programme notes for Saturday’s all-Russian programme. Don’t forget to book your ticket in advance!

Shostakovich: Festive Overture
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No.2
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.4

tchaikovsky-4

CUMS Symphony Orchestra: the President’s Perspective

Sacha Lee

Sacha Lee

Sacha Lee is a Classicist in her second year at Jesus College and this year’s CUMS Symphony Orchestra President. She tells us why CUMS Symphony Orchestra has been such an important part of her Cambridge career so far

As I take my seat in rehearsal and start to warm up my fingers, which are still cold from cycling over, in the routine I have done for years (G major scale in trills, C major vibrato scale etc), I can’t quite believe how quickly time has flown. I have had the immense privilege of playing in CUMSSO for over a year now and while I risk sounding gushy, it truly is the best non-academic thing I have got involved in. I study Classics and unlike many of my NatSci/Engineer/Medic friends, us Arts students don’t often meet people from different colleges because we don’t have a network of lab partners and long days in the department. Playing in CUMSSO, a 65 member strong ensemble, has introduced me to so many wonderful people who all study different subjects at different colleges but we have one crucial thing in common: a love for classical music and a desire to put on fantastic concerts twice a term. Once you have sweated through a particularly tricky rehearsal with your desk partner, involving some hideous intonation and dodgy bowing, the foundation for a solid friendship has been set.

It wouldn’t be Cambridge if it wasn’t challenging and there are certainly moments when the workload is horrendous and attending five rehearsals in a week for a concert that weekend becomes a bit of a mental battle. Yet despite the tiredness and occasional existential crisis, I know that when I arrive at orchestra and divert my mind to playing the violin for three hours despite all the other worries, I feel a lot better and am ready to tackle unseens/reading/essay writing with a fresh perspective.

Having a new professional world-class conductor each concert keeps the programmes exciting because we are always learning new approaches to pieces and benefitting from others’ years of expertise. We are very fortunate that we are able to work with them and I have enjoyed the slightly different environment in preparation for each concert.

There is a reason that we all push ourselves in intensive rehearsals and practise the tricky passages in the pieces over and over in our spare time: we are all motivated people who feed off each other’s drive and energy to perform at our best. The rush of adrenaline I feel when we nail a hard sequence in the concert and the enjoyment of showcasing what we do is the reason that I feel so passionate about the orchestra. Everyone is very talented yet humble and the supportive atmosphere within the ensemble is what makes it special. It is not a competition to outdo each other; it is a spark that ignites us to work collectively to make the best sound as a section.

tchaikovsky-4It is my pleasure to play and be President of this ensemble and I am really looking forward to our upcoming concert with our CUMS Conducting Scholar John Tothill, playing Shostakovich Festive Overture, Prokofiev Piano Concerto Number 2 (with CUMS Concerto competition winner Naomi Woo) and Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony.

Hope to see you there!

 

CUMS Symphony Orchestra perform an all-Russian programme featuring music by Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky this Saturday in West Road Concert Hall. Book your tickets online here and watch this space for more blog posts in the next few days!

 

 

Behind the scenes at CUCO

Aditya Chander, Leader of CUCO, talks about his experience in Cambridge University’s Flagship orchestra

Aditya Chander. Photo: Constance Reid

Aditya Chander. Photo: Constance Reid

Being in CUCO
CUCO has been an absolute rock during my time at Cambridge. Since depping for them in 2013 under the baton of Sir Roger Norrington, I was inspired to audition for the orchestra the following year, and since 2014 I’ve been playing with CUCO full time. As a chamber orchestra, we are a really tightly-knit group of people, and I’ve met some of my best friends and favourite musical colleagues through the ensemble. We also get to work with top professional conductors, so you can always guarantee an incredibly high standard of music making.
The rehearsal schedule is designed to be intense – we practise for three hours nearly every night in the week before our Saturday evening concerts, including sectionals. This is tiring, but it pays dividends when it comes to the quality of our concerts, which is consistently excellent. It’s also refreshing to play repertoire that isn’t traditionally tackled in full symphony orchestras.
I’d say my most memorable CUCO concert was our concert at Kings Place in London with Howard Shelley last November, playing Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Even though the orchestra was relatively new at this point, we really came together as a cohesive unit, and inhabited the sound world of the repertoire with great enthusiasm and a sophisticated musical understanding. One of my friends at UCL came to watch, having never been to a classical concert before, and is now hooked!

Leading CUCO
I feel hugely privileged to be leading CUCO for the 2016-17 season – it feels like a fitting culmination to my time with the ensemble. In my view, being a leader of a chamber orchestra is slightly different to leading a symphony orchestra. Since there are fewer players, it is much more critical that each member takes responsibility for their contribution to the overall sound; hence, I need to be more attuned to when things aren’t gelling quite as well as they should be. Also, it’s hugely important to have good communication with not just the other string principals but also the wind players: in particular, there aren’t as many violins and violas sitting in the way of being able to make eye contact with the oboes and flutes, so it promotes tighter ensemble playing between sections. The orchestra is very flexible and responsive to suggestions from conductors, as well as contributing many of their own musical insights, so it’s an absolute joy to lead.
This year, I’m excited to be directing a Mozart symphony from the violin in a conductorless performance. I’m also particularly looking forward to playing the second violin solo in Tippett’s Fantasia Concertante on a theme of Corelli with Thomas Gould directing from the violin and playing the first violin solo, and Wallis Power (our principal cellist) playing the solo cello part. It’s an amazing piece that I played in King’s College Music Society at the start of the year, and I can’t wait to play it with CUCO.

lunchtimeconcerts

Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra

 

CUCO’s next project: Saturday 26 Novembercuco
The repertoire for this project is characterised by wit and charm, particularly the Haydn (Symphony no. 103) and the Bizet (Symphony in C). The Brahms (Variations on a theme of Haydn) is a more serious work, but has some more cheeky elements written in as well, particularly the lilting Grazioso variation, which sounds like it has come straight out of The Sound of Music! The Bizet in particular is very technically challenging, and the main task for this week is to make it sound gracefully shaped despite all the intricacies. The Haydn is a great concert opener, and its peculiarities are bound to pique the audience’s interest.

It’s been really interesting working with David Watkin so far. He is very well-versed in the performance practice literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and is getting the orchestra to engage with this information as a way of expanding our expressive palette. We’ve been expressly banned from note-bashing in rehearsals, which is a welcome relief in a sense, although we can’t hide from the fact that we will have to do some in our own time! I’m excited about how the project is going so far and can’t wait for the concert on Saturday.

 

 

Don’t miss CUCO’s second performance of the 2016-17 Season this Saturday, 26 November, in West Road Concert Hall. Book your tickets online here!

You can also read Declan Kennedy’s programme notes in advance of the concert on our blog.

David Watkin conducts CUCO: Programme Notes

Are you coming to CUCO’s second concert of the term on Saturday? Read Declan Kennedy‘s superb programme notes for Haydn, Brahms and Bizet in advance of the performance!

Haydn: Symphony No.103, ‘Drumroll’
Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Bizet: Symphony in C

Don’t forget to book your ticket online in advance too! We look forward to welcoming you on Saturday.

cuco

 

Registered Charity No. 1149534

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