One of Chicago's oldest and most distinguished concert series, the University of Chicago Presents' Classic Concert Series (formerly the Chamber Music Series) was founded in 1943 with the goal of bringing to Chicago world-renowned artists for concerts and educational programs that would attract audiences from all parts of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Early performers in the series included Igor Stravinsky, Artur Schnabel, Isaac Stern, Arnold Schoenberg, and the Budapest Quartet, who performed, offered public master classes, and spoke about music and composition. In the 1960s, the series came under the stewardship of the Department of Music, where it still resides. Since that time, the series has hosted the Chicago debuts of such artists as singers Ian Bostridge, Cecilia Bartoli, and David Daniels, the artistic collaboration between the Emerson and St. Lawrence String quartets, violinist Hilary Hahn, and the Brentano String Quartet.
Today, the Classic Concert Series presents a diversity of ensembles and composers representing the Classical period through the end of the 20th century. The series presents Chicago debut performances by outstanding ensembles and musicians from around the world and unusual programs of works not often heard in the city.
The Howard Mayer Brown International Early Music Series (EMS) was founded in 1981 by Brown (1930-1993), the University's celebrated Renaissance scholar, in response to public interest in period music performances by internationally known ensembles. The EMS brings to Chicago acclaimed artists from around the world who would otherwise be known only to local audiences through recordings. As part of its educational aspirations, the EMS seeks to perform one medieval, one Renaissance, and one Baroque concert each season, performed by ensembles dedicated to historical performance practice. Concerts often include free pre-concert talks for audiences. The EMS has presented Holland's Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, England's Tallis Scholars, France's Les Arts Florissants, and Russia's renowned violinist Viktoria Mullova. Because of its important role in the cultural life of Chicago and its surrounding region, the EMS attracts audience members from five states, including Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan.
The Artist-in-Residence Series, added in 2003-2004, features 2009 Grammy Award winners, the Pacifica Quartet. Named Musical America's 2009 Ensemble of the Year, Pacifica is comprised of four artists who have won numerous prizes, including Chamber Music America's prestigious Cleveland Quartet Award. From 2005/06 through 2010/11, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra held a six-year residency at the University, which encompassed performances in Mandel Hall, educational outreach work in five local schools through their CONNECT (Chamber Orchestra Neighborhood Network of Education, Curriculum, and Teachers) program, readings of the University's graduate student compositions, and student coaching and master classes.
As of the 2007/2008 season Contempo, the University's ensemble dedicated to the performance of new music, came under the umbrella of UCP. Founded in 1964 by Ralph Shapey and currently under the artistic direction of Marta Ptaszyńska, the five-concert series seeks to create new kinds of consciousnesses, identities, and attachments to contemporary classical music, especially for young people. Its core members include the Pacifica Quartet and multi-Grammy award winners eighth blackbird.
UCP's reputation as a presenter of interdisciplinary festivals has been growing since the production of its first-ever music festival in the 2008/09 season, The Messiaen Music Festival, which honored French composer Olivier Messiaen. Over ten days in October 2008, UCP celebrated the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth through performances, lectures, and symposia that drew raves of "brilliant" and "flawlessly executed" from the Chicago Sun-Times. In March 2010, UCP presented Beyond Flamenco: Finding Spain in Music, a three-day music and art festival celebrating Spanish culture and exploring Spanish identity. Building upon that tradition in one of the largest collaborative artistic efforts across Chicago, 26 of the city's prominent arts institutions joined together in 2010, 2011 and 2012 to present The Soviet Arts Experience, a 16-month-long showcase of works by artists who created under and in response to the Politburo of the Soviet Union. From the poignant string quartets and symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich to stunning, hand-painted WWII propaganda posters, and from the grand orchestral and ballet music of Sergei Prokofiev to the political satire of Evgeny Shvarts, The Soviet Arts Experience took patrons behind the Iron Curtain to explore its essence through the creative work of its visual artists, choreographers, composers, and dramatists.