History & Mission
Dedicated exclusively to the performance of new music, the University of Chicago’s Contempo—formerly known as the Contemporary Chamber Players— is one of the most successful new music groups in the nation. Now in its 48th season, Contempo has earned an enviable reputation for outstanding performances of music by living composers.
Its distinguished list of world premieres by both established and emerging composers includes works by Roger Sessions, Ralph Shapey, George Perle, Mario Davidovsky, John Harbison, Pulitzer Prize-winning faculty member Shulamit Ran and MacArthur fellow and former University of Chicago faculty member John Eaton.
Contempo was founded in the fall of 1964 by renowned composer and conductor Ralph Shapey, who continued to direct the ensemble until his retirement in 1993. Shapey was succeeded by Stephen Mosko, who held the position of Music Director from 1994 to 1998. Seeking to more closely integrate its artistic vision with its educational mission, Contempo underwent a major restructuring by the Department of Music in 1998. Over the next four seasons, conductors Cliff Colnot, Barbara Schubert, and Carmen Helena Tellez served consecutively as Resident Conductors, with the award-winning Pacifica Quartet and eighth blackbird joining Contempo as Artists-in-Residence in 1998 and 2000.
In 2002 Shulamit Ran was appointed Contempo’s Artistic Director, and in 2004—the ensemble’s 40th season—the group forged a bold new artistic path that included new downtown venues and audiences, a broadened notion of new music including jazz and other genres, and a change of name. The Contempo of this era defines itself as a new music collective—“collective” in the sense of emerging from the joint efforts of its conductor, artistic director, core resident ensembles, guest performers, and composers.
Central among Contempo composers is an international cohort of doctoral candidates at the University of Chicago, who have been a defining feature of the group since its inception, together with more established composers whose music is performed throughout the year. The active engagement of young composers, working with faculty and performers during the drafting stages, participating in the rehearsal process, and hearing their work realized by a world-class ensemble, greatly enhances the living art of composition that Contempo works to promote.
“…contemporary music down to a science; talented, very technically capable performers play… with authority and élan.”
Contempo and its artist residencies are generously supported by the Catherine L. Dobson Music Fund, the Amy and David Fulton Fund, the Julie and Parker Hall Endowment for Jazz and American Popular Music, the Claire Dux Swift Music Endowment Fund and the Lowell and Elita Wadmond Endowment in Music.