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 51st 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, Sofia Gubaidulina, Gunther Schuller, Shulamit Ran, and 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, resident
ensembles, guest performers, and composers.
Ran retired in 2015 and is now succeeded by the brilliant Polish composer Marta
Ptaszyn´ska, the Helen B. and Frank L. and Sulzberger Professor of Music, who brings a
fresh and incisive continental vision to the group.
Central to Contempo is an international cohort of doctoral candidates at the University of
Chicago, who have been a defining feature of the group since its inception. 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
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.