The Fall 2015 dedication of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts was just the beginning of a banner year in the history of the Bienen School of Music. Thanks to the generous support of the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, the 2015–16 academic year saw the launch of an exciting three-year residency by the acclaimed Dover Quartet and the historic 20th anniversary of the school’s beloved Winter Chamber Music Festival. These initiatives would not have been possible without the Cheney Foundation’s continuing support of the school.
For more than 30 years the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation has focused on enriching the metropolitan Chicago-area arts scene through its grant-making program. Since its founding in 1985, the foundation has invested almost $20 million in Chicago’s cultural and artistic life, supporting a broad range of organizations.
The foundation has provided major support to the Bienen School through a five-year, $650,000 grant since 2015. The grant is part of a greater initiative by the foundation to increase support for five prominent Chicago-area cultural institutions (in addition to the Bienen School, they are the Art Institute of Chicago, classical music radio station WFMT, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago).
“There is a strong link between the Bienen School and our own cultural community when you see the wonderful musicians emerging from this school,” said Elisabeth Geraghty, the Cheney Foundation’s managing director. The foundation’s board of directors also includes president and treasurer Allan R. Drebin, professor emeritus at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management; board chair Lawrence L. Belles; and vice chair and secretary Howard M. McCue III.
The Cheney Foundation has served as principal sponsor of the Bienen School’s Winter Chamber Music Festival since its debut in 1997. Founded as the Brahms Centennial Festival, it was renamed the Winter Chamber Music Festival the following year. The annual festival presents a series of chamber music concerts by internationally acclaimed musicians.
“To bring world-class musicians into a performance series at Northwestern benefits students, the community, and the musicians themselves. Everyone has the opportunity to explore new repertoire and new collaborations,” said Geraghty.
The 2014 Winter Chamber Music Festival marked the Northwestern debut of the Dover Quartet—violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, and cellist Camden Shaw. The performance was so well received that festival director Blair Milton, in anticipation of growing demand for the group, immediately secured the quartet for a return appearance in the 2015 series.
In fall 2015 the Dover Quartet began a three-year term as Bienen School of Music Quartet-in-Residence, thanks to a gift from the Cheney Foundation. In addition to regular coaching sessions and master classes with Bienen students, the quartet presents three concerts annually, including a performance in the Winter Chamber Music Festival.
One of the most in-demand ensembles in the world, the Dover Quartet won the grand prize and all three special prizes in the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition and has claimed top prizes in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition. Continuing to garner major awards, the group received a prestigious 2017 Avery Fisher Career Grant; the award provides professional assistance and recognition to talented instrumentalists with potential for major careers.
“When you have musicians of this caliber and passion performing in your midst, the school’s whole music community benefits,” said Geraghty. “Tomorrow’s string quartets need excellent role models in terms of both musicianship and management. The Dover Quartet has been extraordinary in this role.”
Dean Toni-Marie Montgomery strongly agrees that the Dover Quartet’s residency has brought positive results to the Bienen School’s string chamber music program. “I am extremely grateful to the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation for its ongoing support of the Bienen School of Music. The foundation’s sponsorship of the Winter Chamber Music Festival and Dover Quartet residency, in particular, has contributed greatly to the international prominence of the Bienen School.”