Classical Music: The Best of Lent Term

JOE BATES launches the new classical music column and tells you why Elgar’s Gerontius, the visit of Libor Pesek and an interesting marriage of Figaro and Facebook mean that Cambridge concert-goers are in for a treat.

alison balsom classical music cums CUMS Symphony Orchestra CUOS Kettle's Yard Kings College Chapel libor pesek Marriage of Figaro richard armstrong West Road Concert Hall

Term begins (to pretentiously mangle TS Eliot) not with a bang but a whimper, as dribs and drabs of students return from an idle vacation spent watching initial good intentions turn to broken New Year’s resolutions.

Yet as the Cambridge cold hits and the essay deadlines bite, the good folks from CUMS will be doing their best to distract us with the first major concert of term, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. Five college choirs will combine with CUCO and CUMS I to form a mammoth ensemble of almost 250 musicians under the baton of Sir Richard Armstrong. The sheer size of the undertaking is daunting and presents a serious challenge to the players and their conductor. But, if they pull it off, the generous acoustic of King’s Chapel will ensure they provide the bang needed to kick start the term’s music making.

A number of big names grace our provincial concert halls this Lent. The outstanding trumpeter Alison Balsom and the excellent Czech conductor Libor Pesek join forces with CUMS ensembles this term for two truly exciting concerts. Balsom’s choice of concerto, Haydn’s E flat, sees her on familiar ground – she has recorded the piece for EMI and played it at the last night of the Proms, both to rapturous reviews. Pesek similarly sticks to his strengths in a program of music from his native Czech Republic. These conservative decisions seem wise: given the relative rarity of top draw performers in Cambridge, it is good to see them play what they are famous for.

For a new take on the classics, turn to the Cambridge University Opera Society, who are attempting to update Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro with a genuinely interesting Facebook campaign. Director Imogen Tedbury explains: ‘[There will be] Facebook pages for each character (recast in the modern world..) – who interact and comment on each other, have photos, political interests, likes, dislikes etc.’ The idea is, admittedly, gimmicky, but promises to be amusing at the very least. If their production is as original as their publicity, Cambridge is in for a treat.

Yet despite this tempting array of large scale concerts, low profile weekly events remain the staple of Cambridge’s musical life and offer the best and cheapest way to experience a wide variety of music this Lent. If the CUMS lunchtime concerts are little bit staid for your taste, why not try the Sunday concerts at Kettle’s Yard.

Whilst twelve o’clock is worryingly close to ‘Sunday morning’ – two words I rarely like to hear in conjunction – Kettle’s Yard have cleverly adapted their weekly fare to suit the needs of the worse for wear. The laid-back, informal atmosphere is paired with varied and intriguing programming to ensure that you stay wide awake. They promise:

“a lissom dancer entwined with cello”

“a new commission by Hannah Varty for solo dancer and two cellists in prone position”


“a naked piano… built to beguile, bemuse and bewilder” (better known as a harp)

If all this sounds a little, well, wank-y for noon time on a Sunday, a free cup of coffee to will help you pay attention and banish that Sunday morning hangover.
It is, thankfully, impossible for me to truly sum up a term’s worth of music in a single article. To really find out what is going on this term, you’d simply have to sort through the dozens of flyers, programs and newspapers to find out what’s going on each week.

For the lazy among you, The Tab will do the hard work. From now on a listings section will provide you with a definitive online diary of Cambridge’s musical life from week to week. A preview section will make the choices for you and a new review team will pass the judgements on your behalf. To top it all off, we will also be providing exclusive features and interviews throughout the term, starting with an interview with Sir Richard Armstrong this week.

Further details of concerts mentioned:
– Dream of Gerontius – 19.30pm, 22nd January, King’s College Chapel, £5
– Alison Balsom – 19.30, 25th February, King’s College Chapel, £5
– Libor Pesek – 19.30, 12th March, West Road Concert Hall, £5
– English Symphony Orchestra – 19.30, 31st January, £10
– Czech National Symphony Orchestra – 2nd February, Cambridge Corn Exchange, £10
– Marriage of Figaro – 24th to 26th February, West Road Concert Hall £9
– CUMS lunchtime concerts – 13.10 every Tuesday, West Road Concert Hall, free
– Kettle’s Yard Sunday coffee concerts – 12.00 every Sunday, Kettle’s Yard, £4