Music

Pembroke College Cambridge enjoys a varied and stimulating musical life. 1The College offers exciting opportunities for listening to and participating in a wide variety and high standard of music.

There are a range of choirs in college, including the Chapel Choir, The Pembroke Singers, The Lovely Choir, The Wren Choir (for graduates) and AcaPembroke. Students can also join the College Orchestra, a non-auditioned group with students from Pembroke, Peterhouse and Downing Colleges.

The musical life of Pembroke is enhanced by regularly concerts given by both students and professionals. The College Musician, Joseph Middleton (seen right rehearsing with cellist Sandie Baillie) organises the Sir Arthur Bliss Song Series, a series of recitals given by performers of the highest calibre. Every Saturday at 4pm, the Pembroke College Music Society hosts a recital showcasing the talents of Pembroke students alongside professional musicians. Concerts of choral music are presented each term and these are complemented by choral concerts and a regular series devoted to the works of Bach (The Kenderdine Concerts). There is also a weekly recital series on Tuesday evenings in Chapel raising money for the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Read more about concerts in Pembroke here.

Musical events in Pembroke make use of two particularly fine performance spaces – the Old Library, parts of which date from the fourteenth century, and Christopher Wren’s baroque Chapel. Occasionally, musical events are held in the Great Hall or the Master’s Lodge. Pembroke College houses Steinway pianos (Model Bs) in the Old Library and Master’s Lodge. There are two practice rooms, both with grand pianos and drum kits.

The main forum for music making in College is a weekly recital series organised by Pembroke College Music Society. Concerts of orchestral music are presented each term and these are complemented by choral concerts and a regular series devoted to the works of Bach (The Kenderdine Concerts). All of these events give Pembroke’s musicians the opportunity to perform solos, play in chamber groups and be part of an orchestra or choir.

Rehearsing with Sandy BaillieThe list of Pembroke’s musical alumni is impressive and includes Sir Arthur Bliss, Christopher Hogwood and Emma Johnson (our first female Honorary Fellow). More recent graduates are pursuing successful careers in music. These include soprano Rachel Ambrose Evans (Tallis Scholars, Polyphony), baritone Ronan Collett (BBC New Generation Artist, Wigmore Young Artist, Borletti-Buitoni Fellowship), Christopher Gray (Organist and Director of Music at Truro Cathedral), bassoonist Philip Gibbon, and film composer Edward Shearmur.

History of Music at Pembroke

During the 20th Century, the musical scene at Pembroke was greatly enhanced by Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975), who studied under Charles Wood and took his BA and MusB in 1913. He was knighted in 1950 and became Master of the Queen’s Music in 1953. Another noted composer to emerge from Pembroke is Patrick Hadley, Organ Scholar 1919-22, and later Professor of Music at Cambridge (1946-62).

In its current form the Pembroke College Music Society (PCMS) dates from 1931, when a concert was held under the presidency of Robin Orr, Organ Scholar 1929-1932. He later became a composer and Professor of Music. Since then, PCMS has taken many forms. Presently it consists of a committee of enthusiastic musicians who co-ordinate and organise concerts, orchestras, ensembles and choirs.

One of the most ebullient conductors of the Pembroke Singers was David Munrow (1942-1976), who entered the college as an undergraduate in 1961. With his contemporary Prof. Christopher Hogwood (Pembroke 1960, an Honorary Fellow and Honorary Professor of Music at Cambridge who died in 2014), he formed the Early Music Consort of London in 1967. His deep insight into the music of mediaeval and renaissance composers, and his virtuosity on many wind instruments, popularised the cause of early music worldwide.

Also in Pembroke in the 1960s was Ray Dolby, research Fellow, subsequently Honorary Fellow, who was turning his thoughts from his PhD in electron-microscopy to the commercially exploitable systems for sound-reduction in audio recording with which his name is now virtually synonymous. His early recordings were made here. The renowned Berlioz scholar, Hugh MacDonald, was a Fellow of the College in the same decade.2