The 2020 Chamber orchestra have been performing together for three yearsOliver Cope

In his first year, music student Oliver Cope built up an orchestra from a network of ‘mates and mates of mates’, naming it ‘2020’, the year in which they would all graduate. Now in his final year, he is happily surprised at its continued existence. ‘I had no idea what was really going to happen’, he reflects, but acknowledges the orchestra as a crucial part of his time at Cambridge – the mix of students from different subjects helps ‘Cambridge be less of a bubble’.

'Student composers help make a kind of bridge into classical music'

This week, the orchestra will be taking part in a charity concert with the dual purpose of commemorating Sir Christopher Dobson and celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday. The concert came about when violin soloist Leora Cohen approached Cope: ‘I want to play this piece. Find me an orchestra’, something you could surely only say in the incredibly strange place that is Cambridge. ‘It’s hard to make classical music accessible’ states Cope ‘and if it was going to be anywhere, it would be here’. On the one hand, there’s an excess of classical music in Cambridge – ‘there’s something on almost every night’, but this is inescapably limited to a circle of people who had already been exposed to classical music. We agree the disparity in private and state school students at Cambridge is a key component of this exclusivity – most music students, notes Cope, have gone to private schools – ‘because the musical education is just so much better there’, and they’re the ones who end up involved in music here. For Cope the hard part is ‘encouraging people to make the jump’ that have not been involved in classical music before. Student composers, he says, are essential to ‘making a kind of bridge’ into classical music - and can help overcome its perceived inaccessibility.

'Elegy' was composed by Johns' student Ignacio Mañá Mesas in memory of the late Sir Christopher Dobson'

It is a piece composed by a student that makes this concert particularly special – the ‘Elegy' piece which will be performed was composed by St Johns’ student Ignacio Mañá Mesas in memory of the late Sir Christopher Dobson who was Master of St. Johns’ college from 2007 until he passed away in September 2019.  He is remembered by Johns’ students as ‘the most genuine, lovely, warm man’, who played an active role in college life. Mañá Mesas, having been supported by Sir Christopher throughout his musical career at St. Johns, was moved to compose a commemorative piece, and contacted Cope about his orchestra performing it. ‘You get a real sense of collaboration’ in a student orchestra playing student composed music, says Cope. ‘A sense of students achieving big things’. As a non-muso myself, the concept of being able to compose your own music seems like an inconceivable task. ‘It’s crazy’ Cope agrees, ‘we’re what, 18 to 22 and there’s people composing their own operas’ but acknowledges that, like with many creative disciplines, there is still a lack of women composing in Cambridge, and fewer still conducting. ‘It’s definitely a balance that needs to be addressed’.


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100% of ticket sales from the concert will go to the chosen charity Camp Kef, a small Jewish charity supporting disabled children in London chosen by Cohen and Cope, something Cope speaks about as a real challenge. Putting on a concert incurs a lot of expense – hall hire, publicity and other less obvious costs add up, and concerts end up only being able to donate a portion of their total revenue to their chosen charity. To make sure everyone’s ticket purchase goes directly to Camp Kef, this concert has relied on donations from colleges and also from Lady Dobson, Sir Christopher’s widow. How has the process been? ‘Really nice, but not easy’, says Cope. What to expect from the concert? ‘Just something a bit different in your week – Beethoven-fuelled, student led, for a good cause. We enjoy it.’

The concert takes place on Wednesday 4th March at 19:30 at the West Road Concert Hall.