The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, (CMS) is one of eleven constituents of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the largest performing arts complex in the world. Along with other constituents such as the New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet, Lincoln Center Theater, and The Metropolitan Opera, the Chamber Music Society has its home at Lincoln Center, in Alice Tully Hall – the finest hall in the world for chamber music. Through its performance, education, and recording/broadcast activities, it draws more people to chamber music than any other organization of its kind.
CMS presents annual series of concerts and educational events for listeners ranging from connoisseurs to chamber music newcomers of all ages. Performing repertoire from over three centuries, and numerous premieres by living composers, CMS offers programs curated to provide listeners a comprehensive perspective on the art of chamber music. The performing artists of CMS, a multi-generational and international selection of expert chamber musicians, constitute an evolving repertory company capable of presenting chamber music of every instrumentation, style, and historical period. Its annual activities include a full season of concerts and events, national and international tours, nationally televised broadcasts on Live From Lincoln Center, a radio show broadcast internationally, and regular appearances on American Public Media’s Performance Today.
In 2004, CMS appointed cellist David Finckel (cellist for 34 years for the Emerson String Quartet) and pianist Wu Han artistic directors. They succeed founding director Charles Wadsworth (1969-89), Fred Sherry (1989-93), and David Shifrin (1993-2004). In 2012 they were named Musical America’s Musicians of the Year.
Dedicated to developing the chamber music leaders of the future, CMS created CMS Two, the highly regarded and rigorously competitive three-season residency for the most important chamber music ensembles and individuals, that fully integrates CMS Two artists into every facet of CMS activities. The CMS Two program is the galvanizing springboard for so many of the greatest careers in chamber music, and is without doubt the key to the vibrant future of CMS and chamber music. As a clear sign of its success, more than half of the artist roster at CMS this season is comprised of alumni, current and incoming members of CMS Two. These are the artists whose passion and artistry will transport audiences for the next 60 years, whose tremendous talent will bring the inspiration and humanity of our beloved chamber music art form to people around the world.
There is no other program remotely on the level of CMS Two for chamber musicians, nothing which guarantees its young artists the best possible career-building performance opportunities: the stage of Alice Tully Hall; global touring opportunities; individualized mentorship throughout the residency and beyond; and a powerful network of renowned chamber musicians and presenters around the world. Each year, a number of CMS Two alumni are invited to become CMS Season Artists and Guest Artists, and many of the world’s leading artists, such as pianist Lang Lang, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, violinist Hilary Hahn, and many others are alumni of the program. A Season Artist with CMS since he completed the program in 2011-12, CMS Two alumnus cellist Nicholas Canellakis wrote: “There isn't a single musical organization in the country that helps young musicians like the Chamber Music Society does with its CMS Two program.”
In 1965, as plans for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts were in the final stages, the distinguished American composer and President of Lincoln Center, William Schuman, first conceived of an organization dedicated to performing the finest chamber music. This organization, to be housed in its own specially designed recital hall, would take its place among the finest ballet, symphonic and opera companies at Lincoln Center. Charles Wadsworth took on the challenge of the creation and artistic direction of the organization. With the patronage and inspiring leadership of Alice Tully, the plan was brought to fruition. On September 11, 1969, Alice Tully Hall opened with the first performance of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, beginning a new era for chamber music in the United States. The eager audiences that filled Alice Tully Hall welcomed the opportunity to hear over three centuries of music written by history’s great composers.
As the nation’s premier repertory company for chamber music, CMS is committed to bringing audiences the finest performances of an extraordinary body of repertoire, dating as far back as the Renaissance and continuing through the centuries to the finest works of our time. As a compelling and dynamic means of artistic expression, chamber music has always inspired composers to create some of their finest works. Today, CMS actively supports composers’ efforts. In its history, CMS has commissioned over 150 new works from a impressive array of composers, including Bruce Adolphe, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, William Bolcom, John Corigliano, George Crumb, Lukas Foss, John Harbison, Alberto Ginastera, Morton Gould, Keith Jarrett, Oliver Knussen, Frank Martin, Gian Carlo Menotti, Darius Milhaud, Peter Schickele, Bright Sheng, Joan Tower, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. CMS also supports the work of living composers by awarding the Elise L. Stoeger Prize, a cash award given every other year to an outstanding composer of chamber music.
When CMS was founded, live performance of chamber music was dominated by the string quartet. CMS drew together a small repertory company, nine of the finest string, wind, and keyboard artists, and started performing a rich array of repertoire not often heard on the concert stages of New York City. Since that time, the world of chamber music has grown and changed dramatically, with large numbers of ensembles across the country in varying instrumental combinations performing all imaginable kinds of chamber music – and CMS has grown and changed with it. CMS now has a roster of over 120 of the finest chamber musicians from around the world, performing a wide range of concerts and education events.
Thousands of children, teens, and adults discover the joys of chamber music and deepen their knowledge and appreciation of this beautiful art form by attending CMS education programs. CMS offers a wide array of learning formats and experiences to engage listeners of all ages and levels of musical knowledge: school-based programs for elementary school students, family concerts, teen-centered programs, master classes, pre-concert composer chats, and insightful lectures on the season’s repertoire for adults. For music lovers who cannot attend in person, CMS lectures and master classes are streamed live and for the following 24 hours from the CMS website; they are also archived for viewing anytime, anywhere on the CMS website or via the free CMS mobile app.
Chamber Music Beginnings introduces New York City elementary school children from all over the city to chamber music. The popular Meet the Music! family concerts open up the world of live chamber music through humor and entertainment. Middle and high school students who audition successfully for the Young Ensembles and Young Musicians programs receive professional coachings from CMS artists and experience the thrill of performing on Lincoln Center stages, such as Alice Tully Hall and the Rose Studio. Middle and high school students also attend Music Up Close! working rehearsals where they interact with CMS musicians. The Student Producers provides a unique mentorship program in which high school students from tri-state area schools meet regularly with CMS staff and learn the inner workings of arts management through hands-on activities. The program has received accolades from the New York Times and Strings Magazine. The Inside Chamber Music lecture series by Bruce Adolphe offers in-depth explorations of season repertoire for the interested lay person. CMS artists and guest artists give Master Classes that reveal the fine points of musical interpretation, lending fascinating transparency to musicianship at the highest level. The CMS online publication Building a Chamber Music Program: A Teacher’s Guide, provides practical advice and resources to help teachers launch and grow chamber music programs at their schools. Through these multifaceted education programs, CMS demonstrates its leading role in nurturing the audiences, composers, and artists of the future.
In keeping with its mandate to reach a broad audience, CMS presents national and international tours and multi-concert series outside New York. Under the artistic direction of David Finckel and Wu Han, the Chamber Music Society brings its trademarks to every touring performance: consistent extraordinary quality, beautifully crafted programs, and the opportunity to hear remarkable young musicians playing alongside world-renowned artists. The ambitious level of touring activity amounts to over 70 concerts annually outside New York City, around the United States and throughout Europe and Asia.
CMS launched its own national radio series in the 2003-2004 season. The series originally consisted of thirteen one-hour programs, and has since expanded to fifty-two. Programs feature live recorded performances by CMS and commentary from the musicians. In its first season, the series was picked up by 245 commercial and non-commercial stations throughout the country, and can now be heard internationally as well as on the CMS website and mobile apps. It is syndicated by the WFMT Radio Network.
CMS also curates its own weekly streaming radio series featuring past performances from the CMS stages. These can be heard alongside the CMS Radio Series on the CMS website and CMS mobile apps.
In addition, performances from CMS are featured regularly on American Public Media’s series Performance Today.
In 2007, the Chamber Music Society launched its first ever in-house recording label, CMS Studio Recordings. Its mission is to capture selected CMS performances under optimal recording conditions using the latest audiophile technology, offering recordings of the highest possible quality. The most recent release under the new label features works of Schumann and Mendelssohn and was the April 2014 Cover CD in BBC Magazine.
CMS's second recording label, CMS Live!, takes extraordinary performances from the CMS stages, chosen by artistic directors David Finckel and Wu Han from among each season’s many concerts. The latest releases feature music by Korngold, Hummel, and Adolphe. Prior to launching the CMS Live! label, CMS partnered for several years with Deutsche Grammophon to produce live performance recordings which are now available for download on the DG Concerts label.
CMS’s historical discography ranges from Bach to Zwilich and includes critically acclaimed recordings of Dvořák’s Serenade and Quintet, Beethoven’s Septet and Serenade, music by Carl Maria von Weber, and Walton’s Façade with Lynn Redgrave as narrator. Fi Magazine named CMS’s recording of Bach’s Complete Brandenburg Concertos “one of the best recordings of the year” in 1996, and a partnership with the Delos label produced releases of Mendelssohn Sextet, Op. 110 & Octet, Op. 20; and the Grammy-nominated Complete Chamber Music of Claude Debussy.
In April 2015, Deutche Grammophon will release a live-concert recording of the piano quartets of Mahler, Schumann and Brahms, recorded at CMS and featuring CMS Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han, with violinist Daniel Hope and violist Paul Neubauer.