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. 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 and pianist Wu Han artistic directors. They succeed founding director Charles Wadsworth (1969-89), Fred Sherry (1989-93), and David Shifrin (1993-2004).
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. 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 100 of the finest chamber musicians from around the world, performing a wide range of concerts and education events.
Thousands of children and adults attend the educational programs of the Chamber Music Society through multiple points of entry into the world of live music making. From school-based programs, family concerts, and a specially designed teen concert series to pre-concert composer chats and intensive lectures on the season’s repertoire for adults, the CMS education department is dedicated to restoring the art of listening and to presenting the vast body of chamber music repertoire to audiences from a wide range of backgrounds, ages, and levels of musical knowledge.
Chamber Music Beginnings introduces New York City public school children from all five boroughs to chamber music. Junior high and high school student ensembles compete in the Young Ensembles program for the opportunity to be coached by CMS artist and then to experience the thrill of performing in Alice Tully Hall. The Student Producers is a unique program for high school students, offering them the chance to create and produce their own programs for their peers. The program was featured in a New York Times Arts and Leisure feature. Meet the Music! is a popular concert series drawing families together for a humorous and entertaining approach to classical music. Inside Chamber Music offers the interested layman a series of in-depth lectures that are tied to CMS’ public performances. All together, these programs demonstrate the leadership role CMS plays in assuring continued growth in the number of lives touched by chamber music.
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 60 concerts annually outside New York City. CMS on Tour is represented in North America by David Rowe Artists, and in Europe, Asia, and South America by IMG Artists.
CMS launched its own national radio series in the 2003-2004 season. This series, originally consisting of thirteen one-hour programs, has since expanded to fifty-two programs. Each features live performances by CMS. 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.
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 first release under the new label features works of Beethoven and Dvorak.
CMS’s 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. Recent releases include Mendelssohn Sextet, Op. 110 & Octet, Op. 20 and the Grammy-nominated The Complete Chamber Music of Claude Debussy, both on the Delos label.