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, Debussy with Sian Edwards, 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 Sir Stephen Cleobury.
On average, CUO perform five 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.
In a ‘normal’ year, members of CUO are placed into one of two groups. For those who rank highly at audition and desire the full CU Musical Society package – top professional artists, exciting performance venues and exhilarating repertoire – the first group will perform six concerts throughout the season: three classical-orchestra concerts and three large, romantic-sized symphony orchestra concerts. The second group – which brings you all the exhilaration only a CU Musical Society concert can provide, but with fewer commitments – play in the large concerts, but with no need to commit to the smaller ones. The rehearsals for all concerts remain the same: a play-through with our wonderful Conducting Scholar or Assistant Conductor and an intensive (but super-fun) week of rehearsals leading up to each concert.
Recent conductors, soloists and coaches
Sian Edwards, 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, Jac van Steen, Sian Edwards
Natalya Romaniw, soprano; Robert Cohen, cello; Guy Johnston, cello; Tom Poster, piano; Stephen Kovacevich, piano; Peter Donohoe, piano; Melanie Ragge, oboe; Jack Liebeck, violin; Thomas Gould, 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 Katharine Ambrose.
We don’t know when we will be able to perform together again, but we hope it will be soon. Please see last year’s season below as an example of what a ‘typical’ year in CUO looks like.
2019-2020 CUO Concert Programme
Saturday 26 October 2019, 8pm
Judith Weir Heroic Strokes of the Bow
Rossini Bassoon Concerto
Beethoven Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’
Jonathan Bloxham conductor
Francis Bushell bassoon
(CUMS Concerto Competition 2019 prize-winner)
Saturday 23 November 2019, 8pm
Bernstein Three Dance Episodes from ‘On the Town’
Gershwin Piano Concerto in F
Bartók Concerto for Orchestra
Jamie Phillips conductor
Louisa Schwizgebel piano
Saturday 18 January 2020, 8pm
Mahler Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’
Andrew Gourlay conductor
Cambridge University Orchestra, members of Cambridge University Sinfonia and Wind Orchestra
Choirs of Clare, Gonville and Caius, Jesus and Selwyn Colleges
Cambridge University Chamber Choir
Graham Ross chorus master
Elin Pritchard soprano
Kathryn Rudge mezzo-soprano
Saturday 15 February 2020, 8pm
Dvorák Notturno for Strings
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2
Smetana Má Vlast (Vysehrad, Vlatva, Sárka)
Jac van Steen conductor
Churen Li piano
(CUMS Concerto Competition Winner 2019)
Saturday 14 March 2020, 5.30pm
King’s Foundation Concert
Daniel Hyde, conductor
Saturday 2 May 2020, 8pm
Michael Boyle des colombes et des crocodiles…
Beethoven Violin Concerto
Beethoven Symphony No. 7
Thomas Gould violin/director
Joel Sandelson conductor
Cambridge University Orchestra Committee 2020-21
Each CUMS ensemble has its own student committee, which runs the ensemble’s rehearsals, concerts and social events. They are supported by the Performance Assistant, 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.
Cambridge University Orchestra is supported by a team of industry professionals.
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.
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 Louisa Clogston.
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 Performance Assistant, 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.
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.