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 Fitzwilliam, Churchill and New Hall colleges. In 1995, the orchestra broke its ties with Fitzwilliam and expanded, rehearsing in Peterhouse and taking musicians from any college.
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 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. In 2001, the orchestra moved to a new home at Selwyn, rehearsing in the Selwyn Diamond.
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 grew rapidly since its introduction, and is now the University of Cambridge Philharmonia.
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. The original UCPO website was 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, Murray Edwards College in 2008/09, Newnham College and Queens' College), and some concert venues. Since October 2007, the main orchestra has rehearsed at St Giles' Church on Castle Street.