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!




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