The Institute for New Music functions as the nerve center of all contemporary music activities at the Bienen School of Music.

Founded in 2012, the Institute presents numerous events over the course of the academic year – from residencies of visiting ensembles and composers to workshops, lectures, and masterclasses, to the biennial Conference/Festival NUNC! Additionally, the Institute provides a platform for new music activities for all areas of the Bienen School.

Several critical assets make Northwestern a logical site for a major new music initiative. These include a corps of talented performance students interested in new music; a strong composition program; the biennial Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, which regularly brings world-renowned composers to campus; the Northwestern Music Library, which contains an unparalleled and internationally renowned archive of printed music composed since 1945; and proximity to Chicago’s vibrant new music scene.

Institute for New Music Activities 2020-21

A message from the Director, Hans Thomalla 

Like every other academic institution, Northwestern University and the Institute for New Music have without a doubt been strongly impacted by the global pandemic. Concerts and other events had to be canceled and many of our usual activities are now online. Nevertheless, the Institute continues to present New Music activities for students and the Northwestern community, as contemporary artistic voices seem more important than ever in our world.

The Contemporary Music Ensemble (CME), led by Alan Pierson and Ben Bolter, are working on contemporary works that can be rehearsed and performed online: John Luther Adams’ breathtakingly beautiful “Ten Thousand Birds” and Bienen School alumnus Marcos Balter’s “Meltdown Upshot”. A second production period will feature Jessie Cox “Existence Lies In Between” and Inti Figgis-Vizueta’s “Primavera Crown.”

Seth Parker Woods, one of the leading contemporary music cellists of our time, is a featured guest artist at the Institute in 2020-21. As part of his collaboration with the Bienen School, he will give a presentation on contemporary repertoire and technique, provide insights into his performance praxis, and discuss current repertoire. Furthermore, he will perform several new compositions for solo cello written by Bienen composition students for him during the year.

The Spektral Quartet, Chicago’s preeminent chamber group for contemporary music and a long-time partner of the Institute for New Music, will return later in the academic year for a collaboration with Bienen School students. The quartet will coach instrumentalists from the Contemporary Music Ensemble in contemporary performance techniques, and perform new works written for them by Bienen School students.

Chicago-based new music pianist Mabel Kwan, whose concert of student works had to be canceled in spring, will return to campus once public concerts can resume and perform seven new works written for her.

Jennifer Higdon, 2018 Nemmers Prize Winner in Music Composition, will return virtually to campus for a master class with composition students. We look forward to seeing her return in person later in the academic year for performances of her works and further engagements with students in music performance and music composition.

While nothing can compare to the experience of a live performance and the shared excitement of listening in a concert hall together, we want to point you to the videos produced last year (see bottom of this page), giving an insight into the work at the Institute. We hope to see you back on campus for a concert, a talk, or another public event, once those can resume.

New Music Ensembles

Bienen Contemporary/ Early Vocal Ensemble

This 24-voice ensemble concentrates on music of the 21st century, drawing relationships to its polyphonic roots in early music.

Contemporary Music Ensemble

A one-on-a-part ensemble of approximately 20 players, CME presents exciting concerts of wide-ranging contemporary works.

Expanding educational offerings in modern music

The Institute for New Music organizes an array of major cultural and educational events, including symposia, festivals, workshops and residencies. Each of these activities provides students with opportunities to interact with and learn from prominent figures in the new music world.

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Music Library

The Northwestern University Music Library is internationally renowned for its extensive collection of contemporary scores composed since 1945 as well as its original manuscripts, including the notable John Cage collection.

Explore the Collection