Bienen School of Music alumnus Nicholas Swett (BM16) has been awarded a prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship for his doctoral studies in music at the University of Cambridge.

Established in 2000 by a donation of $210 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship program offers full-tuition scholarships to outstanding applicants from countries outside the United Kingdom. The program enables scholars to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject available at Cambridge. Winners are selected on the basis of intellectual ability, leadership potential, and a commitment to improving the lives of others.

As an undergraduate at Northwestern, Swett studied new approaches to concert programming and integrated theories of literary translation into performance practice. He later worked as a teaching artist, designing educational workshops and community concerts throughout the Chicagoland area, where he saw firsthand the powerful experiences listeners of many ages and backgrounds could have when engaging with unfamiliar types of music. Although he loves to play and study modern and contemporary repertoire, Swett argues that this music tends to be particularly challenging for audiences. 

At Cambridge, Swett’s research will focus on helping listeners to grapple with these less familiar musical languages. He will combine methods in music analysis and cognitive psychology to explore stylistic translations, or pieces of music that bridge the gaps between musical styles and lead the ear from more familiar sound worlds to less familiar ones. He hopes to deepen ties between music researchers and concert practitioners, developing new ways of presenting music written in the last 100 years.

About Nicholas Swett

Nicholas Swett graduated with a dual bachelor’s degree in cello performance and comparative literature from the Bienen School of Music and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He also holds a master’s degree in comparative literature from Weinberg and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. His thesis project, “Falling Bachwards,” included an interactive concert/marathon of all of J.S. Bach’s Solo Cello Suites played in reverse and received the highest honor in research from Northwestern’s Comparative Literature department. Swett has served as the principal cellist of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and Northwestern’s Opera Orchestra. He holds a master’s degree in psychology of music from the University of Sheffield.

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