Chamber Music May Be Defined By Its Smallness, But Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Is Making Some Big Offerings | Playbill

Related Articles
Classic Arts Features Chamber Music May Be Defined By Its Smallness, But Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Is Making Some Big Offerings

From extensive touring to educational initiatives to a broad repertoire covering five centuries, here's why CMS is the premier chamber music institution in the country.

Chamber Music Society artists performing at Alice Tully Hall. Cherylynn Tsushima

Chamber music, as a genre, suggests a smallness of scale. By definition, it is associated with intimate gatherings of a few musicians—originally in the home, later stepping onto the concert stage. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) may sound, therefore, like an organization with relatively modest offerings, but in fact, it is far more capacious in its programming and activities than many would suspect. From extensive touring to educational initiatives to a broad repertoire covering five centuries, CMS’s wide-ranging ambition puts it among the premier chamber music institutions in the country.


For those versed in the history of Western classical music, the term “chamber music” calls to mind two primary genres: the string quartet and the piano trio. While it is true that these are, so to speak, gravitational centers of the chamber music repertoire (Haydn, for example, wrote 43 piano trios and 68 string quartets, and Beethoven’s works in these genres have been foundations of the art form for generations), CMS seeks to program not only the familiar music of these luminaries, but also music written for many kinds of instrumental ensembles, as well as diverse combinations of instruments and human voice. To  name a few examples, the upcoming season sees works for clarinet and bassoon; horn and piano; voice and guitar; string nonet; string quartet and pipa; flute, violin, and viola; and oboe and percussion. And as part of the annual Baroque Festival this December, organist Paolo Bordignon joins CMS on the rarely used 4,200-pipe organ in Alice Tully Hall. Throughout the season, CMS seeks to expand the popular conception of what chamber music can be.

CMS also remains committed to new music, particularly in its Sonic Spectrum series devoted to music by living composers. Commissions on the series next season include new works by Elise Arancio, Pierre Jalbert, and Sebastian Currier. Additionally, a major commission will appear on the mainstage series in Alice Tully Hall: a piano quintet by Sir Stephen Hough (who will perform the work alongside the Viano Quartet at its world premiere in November 2024).

Another important factor in allowing new music to flourish is, perhaps paradoxically, the repetition of recent works. All too often in the classical music industry, new music (in many cases a brief concert opener) is commissioned, performed, and unfortunately shelved, never to be programmed again. CMS strives to ensure that previously commissioned works are given new life by appearing on our programs long after they were premiered. Drawing on our rich history of commissions, we have included on our mainstage programs in the coming season various pieces that were originally CMS commissions, including John Corigliano’s Poem in October for Tenor, Winds, Strings, and Harpsichord; Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Double Quartet for Strings; and Gian Carlo Menotti’s Suite for Two Cellos and Piano. This approach helps music from years past work its way into the standard repertoire.


In addition to performances in CMS’s two primary New York City venues, Alice Tully Hall and the Rose Studio, we also have extensive touring, with artists traveling around the United States and the rest of the world. This sometimes takes the form of partnering with presenting organizations such as Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida; the Harris Theater in Chicago, Illinois; and many others across the country. In some other locations, touring takes the form of self-produced concerts, such as at Drew University and in Vero Beach, Florida, allowing CMS to bring chamber music to new places while being involved in all aspects of the process, including marketing, ticketing, and production.

“The goal is always to create communities around chamber music,” says Rebecca Bogers, CMS’s Director of Touring and Artistic Planning. “CMS has such a strong community in New York; we know chamber music is an art form that brings people together, so we look for the right model to establish with each partner to help those communities to thrive.”

The Bowers Program

One of CMS’s central contributions to the art of chamber music is its commitment to sustaining the next generation of musicians. A major part of this commitment is the Bowers Program, a highly selective, three-year residency for emerging musicians. After a rigorous audition process, each selected musician is fully incorporated into all aspects of CMS’s activities—from education events and tour performances to mainstage concerts in Alice Tully Hall and more. As a testament to the success of the Bowers Program, more than half of CMS’s current roster is made up of program alumni.

Bowers artists remark on how thoroughly integrated they are into the fabric of CMS activities. “The only distinction between a Bowers artist and another CMS artist,” says violinist James Thompson, “is the little asterisk next to your name in the program. It’s a great opportunity to jump-start your career.” He adds that his affiliation with CMS has allowed him to meet many other artists and presenters around the country with whom he has started to form independent relationships.

In the 2024–25 season, a new class of Bowers Program artists begins its three-year term. This is one of the largest Bowers classes in many years, with nine individuals and one ensemble (the Viano Quartet) in the cohort.


Education initiatives are central to CMS’s mission; through these, we aim to increase engagement with chamber music for people of all ages and all levels of musical knowledge. Chamber Music Beginnings, a program in New York City elementary schools, introduces young students to the art form, while CMS Kids (in the Rose Studio at Lincoln Center) combines live performance with a scripted program designed for ages 3–6, all in an inclusive environment for various sensory, communication, movement, and learning needs. Other programs for students include Meet the Music! (family concerts in Alice Tully Hall), Music Up Close (open rehearsals for middle and high school student groups), and the Young Ensembles and Young Musicians programs (in which students who successfully audition receive professional coaching from CMS artists and perform on Lincoln Center stages).

For adults, the Inside Chamber Music series offers in-depth explorations of the season’s repertoire with Bruce Adolphe, and several Master Classes throughout the year—both in New York and on tour—allow audiences to understand the fine points of musical interpretation.

These are just a few of the many dynamic areas of CMS activities, through which CMS answers the call to ensure a robust future for chamber music. More information can be found here.

John Sherer is editorial manager of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Today’s Most Popular News:

Blocking belongs
on the stage,
not on websites.

Our website is made possible by
displaying online advertisements to our visitors.

Please consider supporting us by
whitelisting with your ad blocker.
Thank you!