Richard Hickox founded the CLS in 1971 and remained its music director and artistic director until his death in November 2008. Past principal guest conductors have included Marin Alsop and Douglas Boyd. In November 2009, the CLS announced the appointment of Stephen Layton as its second Artistic Director, effective with the 2010-2011 season, for an initial contract of 3 years. Layton is also to have the title of Principal Conductor. Simultaneously, the CLS announced the appointment of clarinetist Michael Collins also as Principal Conductor, effective in September 2010, for an initial period of 3 years.
The CLS has won various awards, such as the Royal Philharmonic Society's Large Ensemble Award, the 'Best Opera Recording' Grammy for its recording of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, and the Arts, Business and Sustainability Award from the national organisation Arts & Business, in recognition of the achievements of its partnership with principal sponsor MMC. The CLS carries out a variety of education and community activities all over the UK. Musicians spend around 100 days a year making music with a wide range of community groups, young and old, across the UK. In addition, the CLS began in 2000 its professional skills development programme, Development Through Music, which uses music as a means of exploring behaviours and attitudes in business and professional organisations.
The CLS has recorded chamber orchestra and opera repertoire for a number of labels, including Chandos and Hyperion.