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.


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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