Cambridge University Orchestra (CUO)


Cambridge University Orchestra is Cambridge’s flagship orchestra. CUO attracts the University’s very best musical talent, works exclusively with distinguished professional conductors, and achieves the highest possible standards. Many Cambridge University Orchestra members have previously performed at a national level and pursue careers as professional musicians when they leave University. Recent highlights have included a recording of Mozart and Haydn with Sir Roger Norrington, Wagner with Sir Mark Elder, concertos directed from the piano by Peter Donohoe, Mahler with Paul Daniel, Beethoven directed by Thomas Gould and a live Radio 3 broadcast with King’s College Chapel Choir, conducted by Stephen Cleobury.

On average, CUO perform six concerts per year: two projects in Michaelmas term, three in Lent term and one in Easter term. The Orchestra performs a range of chamber and symphonic repertoire, adjusting its size accordingly (for more information, see the ‘Ensembles’ introduction). Each concert is preceded by a short, but intense rehearsal period and includes sectional coaching with a professional musician, usually a member of one of the top London orchestras. All other rehearsals are taken by the visiting professional conductor.

As well as professional-level projects during term-time, membership with Cambridge University Orchestra offers opportunities to perform at May Balls, to go on tour, and to join in with many fun social activities outside of the rehearsal room.


A word from Adam Phillips, CUO President 2017-18:

Cambridge University Orchestra (CUO) was born out of the success of the venerated CUCO to form a more adaptable orchestra, capable of performing a vast range of repertoire. This coming season of 2017-2018 showcases this spectacularly, from full symphonic forces for Verdi’s gigantic Requiem and Mahler Symphony No. 1, to an intimate chamber orchestra for Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 and Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals.

Cambridge University Orchestra is the leading orchestral ensemble in Cambridge, and I’m really excited to be able to work with some of the leading conductors and soloists from around the world, such as Sir Mark Elder and Jac van Steen, and pianist Tom Poster and cellist Michael Petrov. Such a season will be an unforgettable experience for audience and orchestra alike, and I very much look forward to welcoming you to our concerts, starting with our season launch on 21st October 2017.

Those looking to join the orchestra can expect to have expert instrumental tutors and the guest conductor guide them through a week of rehearsals, leading to an exceptional performance at the end of the week. Not only does CUO provide the perfect opportunity for music-making of the highest standard, it also gives the chance to meet many fellow Cambridge musicians, leading to multiple social events outside of the rehearsal schedule. If you are interested in joining, please come and meet us at the freshers’ fair at the beginning of the academic year, and the auditions soon-after in early October.


2017-2018 programme

Saturday 21 October: Season Launch concert with Tom Poster, including Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 and Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals

Saturday 2 December: Sir Mark Elder conducts Brahms’ First Symphony in King’s College Chapel

Saturday 27 January: Verdi’s Requiem conducted by Jac van Steen

Saturday 17 February: A large-scale symphonic programme conducted by Ben Gernon including Mahler’s First Symphony

Saturday 17 March: King’s Foundation Concert and dinner, conducted by Stephen Cleobury

Saturday 12 May: Jamie Phillips conducts Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with soloist Michael Petrov.

For full programme details, please see the ‘Programme’ tab


Recent conductors, soloists and coaches

Sir Mark Elder, Sir Roger Norrington, Paul Daniel, Nicholas Collon, Richard Farnes, Howard Shelley, Gerry Cornelius, Carlos Izcary, Natalia Luis-Bassa, Andrew Gourlay, Jamie Phillips, Peter Stark, Thomas Gould

Guy Johnston, cello; Tom Poster, piano; Stephen Kovacevich, piano; Peter Donohoe, piano; Melanie Ragge, oboe; Jack Liebeck, violin

Charles Mutter, leader of the BBC Concert Orchestra
Adrian Bradbury, cellist
Orlando Jopling, cellist
Melanie Ragge, oboist and founding member of New London Chamber Ensemble
Simon Channing, head of woodwind at Royal College of Music
Stephen Stirling, horn professor at Trinity College of Music and member of Endymion Ensemble
Jo Hensel, member of the horn section of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields


For more information on the work of CUO, please contact Chloe Davidson at

To view the 2017-18 rehearsal schedule, please click here



Saturday 12 May 2018
West Road Concert Hall

Korngold Suite from Much Ado About Nothing
Tchaikovsky Variations on a Rococo Theme
Mendelssohn Symphony No.3 ‘Scottish’

Jamie Phillips, conductor
Michael Petrov, cello  


2017-18 CUO Concert Programme

Saturday 21 October 2017, 8pm
Bernstein Overture to Candide
Mozart Piano Concerto No.21 in C major, K. 467
Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals
Milhaud Le boeuf sur le toit
Tom Poster, piano/director
Naomi Woo, piano

Saturday 2 December 2017, 8pm
Schreker Kammersymphonie
Debussy Première Rhapsodie
Brahms Symphony No.1
Sir Mark Elder, conductor
Sergio Castillo Lopez, clarinet

Saturday 27 January 2018, 8pm
Verdi Requiem
Jac van Steen, conductor

Saturday 17 February 2018, 8pm
Muhly Mixed Messages
Bruch Violin Concerto No.1
Mahler Symphony No.1
Ben Gernon, conductor
Stephanie Childress, violin


Saturday 17 March 2018, 5.30pm
King’s Foundation Concert
Stephen Cleobury, conductor

Saturday 12 May, 8pm
Korngold Suite from Much Ado About Nothing
Tchaikovsky Variations on a Rococo Theme
Mendelssohn Symphony No.3 ‘Scottish’
Jamie Phillips, conductor
Michael Petrov, cello

Concert Archive

A note on Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra
In 2017, the CUMS ensembles were restructured (for more details please see the Ensembles introduction). As a result of this restructuring, the Society’s flagship orchestra, Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra, became a more flexible ensemble which performs both chamber and symphonic repertoire. Hence, ‘Chamber’ was dropped from the orchestra’s name to form Cambridge University Orchestra.


Photo: Zhao Songyuan

Social Media
Find Cambridge University Orchestra on Facebook and Twitter!
 Blog posts
22 November 2016: a post on the CUMS Blog by the Orchestra’s Leader, Aditya Chander
28 February 2017: Aditya Chander reflects on the orchestra’s first rehearsal with Peter Donohoe and the thrill of performing without a conductor in his second blog post.
2 May 2017: An interview with CUMS Composer in Residence Joy Lisney, whose composition ‘Thread of the Infinite’ premiered on Saturday 13 May 2017.

Photo: Zhao Songyuan

13 May 2017
Joy Lisney (CUMS Composer in Residence): Thread of the Infinite
Beethoven: Symphony No.6 ‘Pastoral’ Mvt 1
Beethoven: Symphony No.6 ‘Pastoral’ Mvt 2
Thomas Gould director/violin

27 February 2016
R Strauss: Overture and Dance scene from ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’
Chris Mortlock (CUMS Composer in Residence): Between the Spheres
Beethoven: Symphony No.4
Gerry Cornelius conductor
Recorded by Adam Welch

13th December 2013
Haydn: Symphony No. 104 ‘London’
Scarlatti: ‘Christmas Cantata’
Mendelssohn: Symphony No.1 in C Minor Op.11
Sir Roger Norrington conductor
Katherine Watson soprano
Recorded by Myles Eastwood


Photo: Zhao Songyuan

May 2017: Thomas Gould
March 2017: Peter Donohoe
February 2016: Gerry Cornelius
November 2015: Howard Shelley
October 2014: Three Impressionists
May 2014: Jamie Phillips
March 2014: King’s Foundation Concert
January 2014: A Child of Our Time conducted by Nicholas Collon
November 2013: The Epic of Everest


Season Launch Concert 26/10/13, The Cambridge Student. Read here.

The Epic of Everest 16/11/13, Varsity. Read here.

The Epic of Everest 16/11/13, The Cambridge Student. Read here.

Season Launch Concert 21/10/16, The Cambridge Student. Read here.

Mahler Symphony No.3 21/01/17, Varsity. Read here.

Peter Donohoe performs Mozart and Shostakovich 04/03/17, Varsity. Read here.

Cambridge University Orchestra Committee 2017-18

Each CUMS ensemble has its own student committee, which runs the ensemble’s rehearsals, concerts and social events. They are supported by the Concerts and Marketing Assistant (a graduate role), the Performance Assistant (a joint role with the Faculty of Music) and the Executive Director. If you would like to get in touch or have a suggestion about the ensemble, the Ensemble President is a good place to start. For more information on how CUMS is run, please see the Society Information page.

Adam Phillips –

The rest of the student committee will be elected at the start of Michaelmas Term.

CUMS staff
Concerts and Marketing Assistant
Alice Greenwood –

Performance Assistant
Katharine Ambrose –

CUMS Executive Director
Chloe Davidson –

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I perform with Cambridge University Orchestra?
If you wish to be considered for a place in CUO, you must audition. CUMS Auditions take place at the start of each academic year, during Freshers’ Week. All members of the previous year’s orchestra must re-audition along with the new players. For more information about auditions, including how to sign up, please see here.

How competitive is it to get into CUO?
This varies every year and depends on the instrument, but CUO is the University’s premier orchestral ensemble and attracts the University’s finest musical talent. Typically, several members of the orchestra will have previously performed at a national level and will pursue careers as professional musicians when they leave Cambridge.

How many places are there in CUO?
CUO is a flexible ensemble: the size of the orchestra adjusts depending on the repertoire being performed. Following your CUMS audition, if successful, you will most likely be offered either a place in CUO for the full year (in both chamber and symphonic repertoire concerts), or a place in all large-scale symphonic repertoire concerts (and a place in Cambridge University Sinfonia concerts when you are not performing with CUO).

For the 2017-18 Concert Season, the chamber string strength is and the string strength for the majority of symphonic concerts is The wind and brass places vary with each concert depending on repertoire. Your concert commitments for the year will be made very clear following your audition.

How is seating determined?
Seating in all sections of the orchestra for the year is determined at the auditions. There will sometimes be some rotation in the strings, which will be confirmed at the start of the year.

What kind of time commitment is involved?
CUO operates on a project-based schedule. All concerts take place on Saturdays and are preceded by a short, but intense period of rehearsals with the visiting professional conductor. Typically, a chamber concert will be preceded by four evening rehearsals during the week, plus a rehearsal on the afternoon of the concert. Symphonic concerts will have one or two additional rehearsals. There are two concerts in Michaelmas term, two in Lent term (plus the King’s Foundation concert) and one in Easter term. You can view the full 2017-18 rehearsal and concert schedule here.

Why are the rehearsals so close together? Why not have weekly rehearsals throughout the term?
The intense project-based rehearsal schedules work extremely well for CUO, because they enable the visiting conductor (who will only be able to spend one week in Cambridge) to take all of the rehearsals for their concert and work in great depth with the players. It would be impossible for CUMS to invite top professional conductors to work with the orchestra if it operated on a weekly rehearsal schedule. Project-based rehearsal schedules are also beneficial because they enable orchestra members to take part in other activities (e.g. an opera production) or catch up on degree work during their weeks off from CUO.

Will I be able to fit in CUO around my studies?
Yes. Nobody can work all of the time, and it is really important to have other activities planned to take your mind off degree work between lectures and supervisions, and to get the most out of your time at Cambridge. While the CUO rehearsal weeks are quite intense, rehearsals take place in the evenings and the total CUO time commitment for the year is just 11 evenings in Michaelmas term, 15 in Lent term and 5 in Easter term. Members of the orchestra receive their rehearsal schedules for the entire year in October, so it is possible to plan around them.

Do I have to attend all the rehearsals?
Yes. All CUO rehearsals are compulsory and you must attend unless you have special permission from the orchestra manager. We operate a strict rehearsal policy to ensure that the very high standard of the orchestra is maintained.

I am a choral/organ scholar. Will I have time for CUO?
Yes – it is common for choral scholars to perform in CUMS orchestras too. However we do expect members of CUO to prioritise the orchestra’s rehearsals, and any potential problems must be flagged up with a member of the CUMS team at the start of the year. If you have concerns about rehearsal commitments and would like to discuss this with a member of the CUMS team, please get in touch with Alice Greenwood:

I am applying for an instrumental award. Will I have time for CUO?
Yes. It is very common for instrumental award-holders to perform with CUMS ensembles and they are strongly encouraged to audition.

Who runs CUO?
CUO, like every CUMS ensemble, has its own student President and committee which runs the ensemble’s rehearsals, concerts and social events. The CUO committee is supported by the CUMS Concerts and Marketing Assistant (a graduate role), the Performance Assistant (a joint role with the Faculty of Music) and the CUMS Executive Director, who help to ensure that rehearsals and concerts run as smoothly and professionally as possible.

The ensemble President also sits on the overarching CUMS Management Committee. This Committee meets regularly during term-time and includes the CUMS Student President, Vice Student President, the President of each individual ensemble and the Conducting Scholars. The Committee discusses how the Society operates, the programmes the ensembles perform and the artists they work with. The CUO President represents the views of CUO members in these discussions. For more information about how CUMS is run, please see here.

Will I be able to get involved with running CUO?
Yes. At the start of each academic year the President of CUO will elect members of the orchestra’s committee, including a Publicity Officer, Social Secretary, Stage Manager and Librarian. CUMS is always delighted to hear from students who would like to get involved and offers several opportunities for students to develop their skills and experience in arts administration.

How sociable is CUO?
Very! The orchestra’s Social Secretary is responsible for organising social events, such as dinners and formals, as well as regular after-concert parties. Pre-rehearsal dinners and post-rehearsal pub trips are frequent and encouraged. The Orchestra is made up of a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate students from all kinds of academic backgrounds, and it is a great way to meet like-minded musicians from across the University.

Are CUO available for hire?
Please get in touch with Alice Greenwood,

What happened to Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra (CUCO)?
In 2017, the CUMS ensembles were restructured. As a result of this restructuring, the Society’s flagship orchestra, Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra, became a more flexible ensemble which adjusts in size throughout the year to perform both chamber and symphonic repertoire. Hence, ‘Chamber’ was dropped from the orchestra’s name to form Cambridge University Orchestra. This change will enable musicians in the orchestra to experience performing both chamber and symphonic repertoire at a very high level. You can read more about the restructuring of the CUMS ensembles here.


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