The History of UCPO and WCSO

The orchestra we now know as the University of Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra was originally founded in the early 1990s as the West Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, WCSO.

The orchestra was started as an offshoot of Fitzwilliam College music society (FCMS), who provided grants to help fund the early years. Members were taken principally from Fitz, Churchill and New Hall colleges. In 1995, the orchestra broke its ties with Fitz and expanded, rehearsing in Peterhouse and taking musicians from any college. The original role of WCSO is now filled by the Orchestra on the Hill.

In the early years following the split from Fitz, WCSO was organised in a relatively informal way, regularly making a loss that was recouped each year by combining the Easter concert with a garden party and 'giving away' drinks to those guests who 'bought raffle tickets'. Each treasurer had to cover losses personally. This situation started to resolve from 1998 onwards, with the creation of a specific orchestral bank account and a greater emphasis on publicity.

After this, WCSO started to grow and change in character, with an increasingly formal committee structure, more ambitious programmes, and an increasing sense of professionalism. Rehearsals outgrew most college rehearsal rooms, and the Wesley Methodist Church was chosen as a venue from 1999. However, the orchestra has always remained committed to the principle of having no auditions, and accepting anyone for whom we have a musical part.

An increasingly large membership brought new musical opportunities, but also new limits in what pieces could be attempted. Sectional pieces were introduced in an attempt to give everyone a chance to play, before the decision was made to start a chamber orchestra to increase the possible range. The West Cambridge Sinfonia, or 'Baby' as it quickly became known, was born. It has grown rapidly since its introduction, and is now the University of Cambridge Philharmonia.

In 2001, the orchestra moved to a new home at Selwyn, rehearsing in the Selwyn Diamond.

At the start of 2002, and after a lively debate at the AGM, the decision was made to change the name of the orchestra, dissolving WCSO to resurrect it as UCPO. The principal argument was that the structure of the orchestra had always been that of a philharmonia (in which all musicians are of equal rank except the principal), and that we were no longer tied to West Cambridge physically. This website is one product of that name change.

UCPO's ties with Cambridge colleges ended in 2007, apart from the rehearsal space for Baby (Clare Colony in 2007/08 and Murray Edwards College [formerly New Hall] in 2008/09), and some concert venues. Since October 2007, the main orchestra has rehearsed at St Giles church on Castle Hill.

Thanks to Matthew Wilshee for providing extra information for this page - dew22

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