The University of Chicago Presents concert series endeavors to present music on an intimate scale at the highest level, creating for audiences of all ages experiences that transform, entertain, educate, and enlighten, inspiring a powerful sense of shared humanity. Advancing the values of its home at the University, UCP engages all—the student, the Nobel Laureate, the uninitiated, the dedicated musician, and everyone in-between—to nurture curiosity through great music-making.
One of Chicago’s oldest and most distinguished concert series, the University of Chicago Presents was founded in 1943 as the University of Chicago Chamber Music Series (now the Classic Concerts Series) with the mission of sharing world-class music through concerts and educational programs with audiences across Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. In its early seasons, the series brought many of the most significant figures of both performance and composition to the University’s Mandel Hall: Igor Stravinsky, Artur Schnabel, Issac Stern, Arnold Schoenberg, and the Budapest Quartet. In addition to offering top-notch performances, guests of the series offered public master classes and lectures on music and composition, a legacy which continues to this day.
In the 1960s, the series came under the stewardship of the Department of Music at the University, where it resides today. In the decades since, the series has hosted the Chicago debuts of artists including Ian Bostridge, Cecilia Bartoli, David Daniels, the artistic collaboration between the Emerson and St. Lawrence String quartets, violinist Hilary Hahn, the Brentano String Quartet, and many more.
In 1981, former music department chair and celebrated scholar on the music of the Renaissance Howard Mayer Brown (1930-1993) founded what is now named the Howard Mayer Brown International Early Music Series. While Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque had been heard on the series since its earliest years, the HMB International Early Music Series established it as a central fixture of concerts at the University of Chicago and set the performance discipline on an international footing. The EMS brings to Chicago acclaimed artists from around the world who would otherwise be known only to local audiences through recordings. The series 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 University of Chicago has a long history in the creation of contemporary music, presenting composers on the cutting edge, such as Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg, from its early days. In 1964, conductor, composer, and University of Chicago professor Ralph Shapey, seeking to make the University not just a center for the composition of new music but for the performance of it as well, founded the Contemporary Chamber Players (CCP), which set the foundation for the performance of new music in Chicago.
In the 2000s, under the artistic direction of composer Shulamit Ran, Contempo came to define itself as a new music collective — “collective” in the sense of emerging from the joint efforts of its conductor, artistic director, resident ensembles, guest performers, and composers. Now, the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition, under composer and artistic director Augusta Read Thomas, continues this tradition, presenting four concerts in partnership with UChicago Presents each season, including three by the Center’s resident Grossman Ensemble, plus one by a new guest ensemble each year.
The opening of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts in the fall of 2012 brought the establishment of another new series at UChicago Presents. The Jazz at the Logan series, now entering its seventh season, has been a valuable addition to the jazz scene on Chicago’s South Side. In its first several seasons, the series has hosted international jazz greats like Brian Blade, Vijay Iyer, Anat Cohen, Christian McBride, and many others. Through a partnership with the Jazz Institute of Chicago, the series has fostered future Chicago jazz talent as well through Chicago Stage at the Logan, a free performance series that happens in the Logan Café before each JAL concert.
In recent years UCP has redefined its role on the UChicago campus and in the city of Chicago, providing fresh and compelling programming each year. From 2010 to 2012 the Soviet Arts Experience (SAE) brought UCP and its 25 artistic partners to the next level with one of the largest interdisciplinary showcases ever held in Chicago. Inspired by the Pacifica Quartet’s performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s string quartet cycle in the 2010/11 season, UCP endeavored to deepen its engagement with the broader artistic context of the Soviet era by reaching out to cultural organizations around the city. The SAE, resulting from these efforts, ultimately encompassed over 100 performances of music, dance, and theater; film screenings; exhibitions in four museums; undergraduate, graduate, and adult-education classes; and more.
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, staged in honor of French composer Olivier Messiaen. In 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 theChicago Sun-Times. In 2010, UCP presented Beyond Flamenco: Finding Spain in Music, a three-day music and arts festival celebrating Spanish culture and exploring Spanish identity. In fall 2013 UCP honored the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, the “complete musician” who lived entirely within the 20th century. The organization commemorated the Great War in April 2015 with Centenary Weekend: the Crossroads of World War I and Music, a three-day festival of concerts, lectures and more. UCP paid tribute to Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s life and music with a series of concerts, events, and symposia in the 2017/18 season.
Building on its past interdisciplinary explorations of global traditions, UChicago Presents created the Music Without Borders series in 2018/19 to showcase contemporary artists from around the world who blend global traditions with modern styling. In addition to performances on the Logan Center stage, the artists on the series join University faculty in pre-concert talks and also participate in round-tables, seminars, school visits, and more through mini-residencies with various academic centers and departments of the University. The first two seasons have featured artists from every part of the globe: India, Korea, Iraq, China, Russia, and Puerto Rico. Through its newest series, UChicago Presents continues to engage with Chicago’s diverse community through the intellectual and artistic wealth of the University of Chicago.
Conceived out of necessity during the 2020/21 season and praised by the Chicago Tribune as “jaw-dropping,” UCP’s virtual SOUND/SITES series, a collaboration with the Department of Music, pairs the Department’s accomplished faculty members with the stunning and varied architecture found on the University of Chicago campus. This series allowed UCP to support the Dept. of Music faculty and artists when live concerts on campus were not possible. Having reached an international audience, SOUND/SITES allowed UCP to widen our reach and deliver great music to homes around the world. Because of the success of SOUND/SITES’ inaugural year, the series is here to stay and promises to continue presenting UChicago musicians and architecture to audiences everywhere.