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:

Concert Manager
Front of House

Please see here for a description of each role.

To apply, please send a CV and covering letter to Alice Webster (, 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. 

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


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.


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.


Interview: CUMS CO Conductor Toby Hession

Toby Hession

Toby Hession

Toby Hession tells us about his passion for conducting, Dvorak’s mysterious Noon Witch and tackling Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in preparation for CUMS Concert Orchestra’s performance on Thursday 24 November

1. Tell us about your musical background. What inspired you to start conducting?

Conducting, or at least directing, has always been of interest to me. My father has enjoyed a career as a Musical Director in theatre, and so I have always observed him and seen what he does – and perhaps some of my earliest ‘conducting’ experiences came from this too, on occasions where I’d assist him or ‘lend a hand’. The first time I conducted formally, though, was during my time at Chetham’s School of Music. I studied piano and composition there, and it was through volunteering to conduct one of my own pieces (for string orchestra) in a concert that I first realised it was something I loved. As well as regularly conducting various ensembles in Composers’ Concerts at Chetham’s (from sextets through to full orchestral forces), I also co-founded and directed a choir there in my final year, with a good friend who now studies at Trinity College. It was in this way that I managed to open myself to Choral direction too, and getting to know the fundamental differences between two very different crafts so early on was thoroughly worthwhile. It was also incredibly enriching to observe the array of professional conductors that would come in to work with the Symphony Orchestra at Chetham’s, both in rehearsal and performance. Many of them offered coaching and mentorship to students who were interested, and some of the things I learned in those sessions stick with me as if it were only yesterday.

2. What have you enjoyed about working with CUMS Concert Orchestra?

Even in the space of one term, working with CUMS CO has proved to be both one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and also one of the toughest learning curves. I suppose two aspects of this stand out to me above all. Firstly, it is fanstastic to have an orchestra at my fingertips for a whole year. My previous conducting experiences have mostly involved putting pieces together very quickly, usually on the day of the concert, and hoping that everyone coasts through (composers’ concerts often pose some enormous technical challenges!). To be able to work with this group week in, week out and hear them develop as an ensemble is truly heart-warming. Yet it is that that has proved to be the challenge too – I’m not used to having so much time to work with! I think more importantly though, CUMS CO provides an opportunity to share great music with instrumentalists from all backgrounds, and with all intentions. Some of the players are music students, with serious ambitions to build a career on their playing – others play for the sheer enjoyment of doing so, and may not ever study the works beyond the rehearsal room. And, at the end of the day, looking up and seeing a whole group of people simply enjoying the music they are playing is the most magical thing of all.

3. What are you most looking forward to about your concert on the 24th November?

I most look forward to the challenge of getting through the whole concert in one go! It’s a demanding programme for the players and the conductor in terms of stamina, and of course there is no chance to stop and go back over something in the performance! It has to be perfect first time. All of the works demand an incredible amount of energy if they are to be shown off to their full potential – so it will be interesting to see how everybody decides to pace themselves on the day!

4. What’s the story behind The Noon Witch and how is it portrayed in the music?

Dvorak tells the story of a mother who warns her son that if he continues to misbehave, the Noon Witch will appear to take him away. The son does not behave, and sure enough, as the clock strikes twelve, the Witch appears. The Witch begins to chase the mother and her son, but during the mother’s efforts to protect her child, she accidentally smothers him to death. The piece ends as the father arrives home, only to discover the dead body of his son and the passed out body of his wife. Dvorak is one of the most imaginative and colourful orchestrators ever to have lived, and it is a pity that this piece is does not enjoy more frequent performance. The playful wind colours at the beginning set a pastoral secene, and depict the mischievous child. The impassioned pleas of the mother to spare her son are set as brilliantly soaring string lines, whilst the Witch is characterised by a dark, ominous bass clarinet solo. The variety of texture in the piece helps to articulate the narrative, and makes it one of Dvorak’s most fascinating works.

5. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is one of the most iconic pieces of classical music ever composed. How have you approached it? What challenges does it bring?

Thinking about the status of Beethoven’s Fifth for too long could easily dissuade one from wanting to touch it at all! Of course, it is revered by analysts and academics as much as it is by conductors and orchestras, but I was keen to avoid being drawn into the slightly sacrosanct nature of the discussions that surround it. I found that the best way to approach it was to see it as any other piece of music that I might learn to play or conduct – quite simply, by doing it as I want to do it. I have based my interpretation quite closely on that of Carlos Kleiber, who I believe oversaw the best performance of this work that I have heard. However, I believe I have also found many original things to say through Beethoven’s music. The closer one looks at the score, the more one realises how tightly the whole piece is constructed using just basic arithmetic units. It is tempting to play with the tempo and the dynamics to find a some new level of drama, but Beethoven writes with an extraordinary attention to detail and no histrionics. Observing his markings to the highest degree possible has actually produced, for my taste, a much more thrilling account.

6. What else are you looking forward to in the CUMS 2016-17 season?

I am looking forward, of course, to the future CUMS CO events very much, and particularly to tackling Schubert’s charming Sixth Symphony next term. That said, I am looking forward tremendously to seeing John Tothill conduct Tchaikovky’s Fourth Symphony with the CUMS Symphony Orchestra. The opportunties afforded to the conducting laureates through CUMS are really invaluable, and it’s fantastic for us to be able to support one another, and learn from our closest peers. On top of that, I am hugely excited to hear Jamie Phillips’ performance of Richard Strauss’ Tod und Verklarung – this was one of the first orchestral scores I ever bought for myself, and I remember watching the Symphony Orchestra at Chetham’s rehearse it for hours on end. I was fascinated by the effortlessness of Strauss’ writing, and how naturally the music seemed to traverse the space between conductor and orchestra, and ultimately, listener. This piece brings back particularly fond memories of my time at school there.


 Toby conducts an exciting programme of Bruckner, Dvorak and Beethoven this Thursday at 8pm in West Road Concert Hall – book your tickets online here!


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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
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