Bienen School of Music

The Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, or Bienen School of Music, is an undergraduate and graduate institution devoted to musical performance and academics. Located on Northwestern University's campus in Evanston, Illinois, 12 miles north of downtown Chicago, the school was known as the Northwestern University School of Music from 1895 to 2008. In September 2008, the school was named to honor retiring University president Henry Bienen and his wife, Leigh Buchanan Bienen.[1][2]

Henry and Leigh Bienen
School of Music
Parent institution
Northwestern University
DeanToni-Marie Montgomery
Academic staff
Location, ,
42°03′02″N 87°40′50″W / 42.050556°N 87.680556°W / 42.050556; -87.680556Coordinates: 42°03′02″N 87°40′50″W / 42.050556°N 87.680556°W / 42.050556; -87.680556


One of the top schools of music in the United States, the Bienen School offers performance degrees in all orchestral instruments, piano, guitar, voice, jazz studies, and conducting, as well as academic degrees in composition, musicology, music history, music education, and music theory and cognition. It is one of the few music schools that offers a dual-degree undergraduate program in liberal arts, journalism, engineering, communication, or education and social policy in conjunction with those respective university schools. The Bienen School has approximately 125 faculty members, 400 undergraduate students, and 200 graduate students.[3][4]


The Bienen School of Music is one of the oldest degree-granting music schools in the United States. Its beginnings date to 1873, when the Northwestern Female College and the Evanston College for Ladies were incorporated into the Northwestern University Woman's College. This new institution established the Conservatory of Music, and in 1891, Peter Christian Lutkin was named its director. In 1895, it became the School of Music, with Lutkin serving as its first dean.

During Lutkin's 33-year tenure the school grew to a position of national prominence. A new music building opened, the "Beehive" practice facility was constructed, and the first honorary doctor of music degree was awarded in 1915 to Frederick Stock, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Lutkin was succeeded in 1928 by Carl Beecher, who had earned the school's first bachelor's degree. Music education professor John W. Beattie was appointed the school's third dean in 1936. During his administration the graduate program was expanded and Lutkin Hall constructed in 1941. George Howerton, a 20-year faculty veteran, assumed the deanship in 1951. Under his leadership the school established an opera program, began a series of guest artist master classes, and greatly increased the music library's holdings. He was succeeded in 1971 by Thomas Miller, whose tenure brought sweeping revisions to the undergraduate curriculum as well as the opening of Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in 1975 and Regenstein Hall of Music in 1977. Bernard J. Dobroski became the school's sixth dean in 1990. His term featured a new emphasis on faculty and student recruitment, expansion of course offerings for nonmajors, and community engagement programs.

Toni-Marie Montgomery has served as dean since 2003. Under her leadership the school has established two international awards, the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance and the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition; increased guest-artist residencies; established the Institute for New Music; provided all doctor of musical arts candidates with full-tuition scholarships; opened a new state-of-the-art music facility, the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts; appointed the Dover Quartet as the school's first quartet-in-residence; and secured funding for a tour to Asia in 2018 by the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra.

Areas of studyEdit

The Bienen School of Music offers 15 academic majors in six degree programs. The ad hoc, or self-designed, major offers an option for students whose interests fall outside the school's standard offerings. The Bienen School offers programs in the following areas of study:[5]

Music PerformanceEdit

  • Brass
  • Percussion
  • Strings
  • Harp
  • Piano and Piano Pedagogy
  • Woodwinds
  • Voice and Opera
  • Jazz Studies
  • Conducting

Music StudiesEdit

  • Composition and Music Technology
  • Music Education
  • Music Theory and Cognition
  • Musicology

Performing EnsemblesEdit

The Bienen School of Music currently sponsors 20 ensembles: the Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Baroque Music Ensemble, Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Band, Contemporary Music Ensemble, Philharmonia, Concert Band, Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Small Ensembles, University Chorale, University Singers, Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble, Alice Millar Chapel Choir, Northwestern Camerata, Brass Choir, Cello Ensemble, Saxophone Ensemble, Percussion Ensemble, and Guitar Ensemble. Some ensembles are open to music majors only. In addition, students can form chamber music groups of their own. Victor Yampolsky is the director of orchestras,[6] Donald Nally is the director of choral organizations,[7] and Mallory Thompson is the director of bands.

Guest Artist SeriesEdit

The Bienen School of Music currently hosts 4 professional guest artist subscription series.

Established in 1993, the Segovia Classical Guitar Series brings internationally-recognized artists and young rising stars, including winners of the Guitar Foundation of America International Competition, to Chicago's North Shore. Recently, the series has welcomed classical guitarists Eduardo Fernandez, Ekachai Jearakul, lutenist Paul O'Dette, the Assad Brothers, and Raphaella Smits, among others.

The Skyline Piano Artist Series was established in 2015 to bring pianists from around the world to perform a wide array of repertoire in the Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall, against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline. Recently, the series has hosted Jonathan Biss, Emanuel Ax, Sergei Babayan, Gilles Vonsattel, Jorge Federico Osorio, and 2017 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner Yekwon Sunwoo.

The Robert M. and Maya L. Tichio Vocal Master Class Series debuted in 2014 and has featured such award-winning vocalists as Renée Fleming, Isabel Leonard, Marilyn Horne, Matthew Polenzani, and composer Jake Heggie. The series allows Bienen School voice and opera program students to perform for and be coached by opera professionals.

The Winter Chamber Music Festival hosts internationally-renowned guest artists and Bienen School faculty for three weekends each January. This series is focused heavily on string quartets and other chamber ensembles and has featured artists including the Dover Quartet, Pinchas Zukerman, Simone Lamsma, and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.

Bienen School PrizesEdit

Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music CompositionEdit

In fall 2003, the Bienen School of Music established the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, a biennial award honoring classical music composers of outstanding achievement. Nominations are solicited worldwide and the winner is determined by a three-member selection committee, comprising individuals of widely recognized stature in the music community. The prize includes a cash award of $100,000 and a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The recipient is expected to participate in two to three nonconsecutive weeks of residency at the Bienen School of Music interacting with students and faculty. In addition to the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, Northwestern University administers four other Nemmers prizes: the Frederic Esser Nemmers Prize in Mathematics, the Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics, the Mechthild Esser Nemmers Prize in Medical Science, and the Nemmers Prize in Earth Sciences.

Past winners include:

The Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano PerformanceEdit

In 2005, the Bienen School of Music established the biennial Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance to honor pianists who have achieved the highest levels of national and international recognition. Winners receive a $50,000 cash award and spend two to three non-consecutive weeks in residence at the Bienen School of Music, interacting with students and faculty. As part of one of the residency weeks, winners offer a public performance.

Past winners include:


Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts

School BuildingsEdit

In its earlier Days, the Bienen School of Music was housed in two buildings. The Music Administration Building was designed by Gurdon P. Randall and built in 1873 as the Women's College of Northwestern University. In 1901 it was named for Frances E. Willard, and served as a women's dormitory. It became the home of the Northwestern School of Music in 1940, and was renovated in 1988.[8] Vocal studies, piano, and composition departments were housed in this building, in addition to administrative offices and academic classrooms. The organ department, which formerly occupied a wing in this building, was controversially closed in 2003.

Regenstein Hall of Music was built in 1977. This building sits on the "Lakefill" and overlooks Lake Michigan. It houses studios for the instrumental and conducting programs, practice rooms, a rehearsal room, and a recital hall.

In February 2008, the University announced that a new $105 million five-story building was to be erected as part of a renovation plan for the southeast corner of the campus. Construction began in June 2012. The new building, named after donors Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan, opened in Fall 2015. The building unites all music faculty and departments in a common location for the first time since the early 1970s and includes classrooms, teaching labs, teaching studios, practice rooms, student lounges, a choral rehearsal room and library, an opera rehearsal room and black box theater, and a 400-seat recital hall.[9][10][11]

Performance VenuesEdit

Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical ArtsEdit

Designed by Chicago-based architectural firm Goettsch Partners, the music building is situated on the lakefront, connected to Regenstein Hall of Music. The Ryan Center houses teaching studios, faculty and administrative offices, 10 classrooms, 99 practice rooms, and three performance spaces: the Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall, the David and Carol McClintock Choral and Recital Room, and the Shirley Welsh Ryan Opera Theater. The design features a limestone base supporting a primarily glass exterior. The building takes full advantage of the site's lakefront location and views of the Chicago skyline, and integrates completely with the existing Regenstein Hall of Music, with two connections between the buildings on each of Regenstein's three levels.

Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall

Ryan Center Performance SpacesEdit

  • Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall. This 400-seat hall, with main floor and balcony seating, features a 40-foot glass wall offering views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. Walls on each side of the hall are made from undulating Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, covered by African moabi wood, providing optimal acoustics. The hall is equipped with state-of-the-art sound and video equipment for optimal recording. John van Rein of the Chicago Tribune named Galvin Hall the "most impressive new Chicago concert facility" in 2015.[12]
  • David and Carol McClintock Choral and Recital Room. This is a 120-seat performance space flexible enough for choral rehearsals, small ensemble performances, and student recitals. The walls are paneled with the same moabi wood as the Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall
  • Shirley Welsh Ryan Opera Theater. This 163-seat hall is a versatile theater space for intimate opera performances and recitals, with double-height ceilings and expansive windows showcasing views of Lake Michigan. Waukegan Steel Company provided steel beams, catwalks, and stairs for the space, giving it an urban, industrial feel. The retractable seating was designed and constructed in the UK.

Pick-Staiger Concert HallEdit

Designed by Edward D. Dart and dedicated in 1975, the Pick-Staiger Concert Hall's 1,000-seat venue is the main performance space not only for the Bienen School but for the university as a whole.

Pick-Staiger Concert Hall

Additional Performance SpacesEdit

  • Regenstein Hall of Music. The building connects directly to the new Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, with two connections between the buildings on each of Regenstein's three levels. It is home to the Department of Music Performance and University Bands faculty and contains 38 practice rooms. The building also includes a 200-seat Master Class Room (also known as "MCR"), which hosts hundreds of performances and events annually.
  • Cahn Auditorium. Located in Scott Hall (1940), this 1000-seat venue is the only space on campus with a full orchestra pit and is used primarily for operatic productions. The space is also equipped and suitable for musical theater productions, concerts, speeches, convocation ceremonies and other large-scale events.
  • Alice Millar Chapel & Religious Center. Built in 1962, this neo-Gothic church in stone and brick houses a 100-rank Aeolian-Skinner organ and is used for choral, mixed ensemble performances, concerts, lectures, and recitals. The building houses two chapels: the Millar Chapel with 700 seats, and the Vail Chapel with 125 seats. An adjacent building, Parkes Hall, houses classrooms and the chaplain's office, and completes the Alice Millar complex. The building was a gift to Northwestern University from Mr. and Mrs. McGaw. Mrs. McGaw was a graduate of Northwestern, and Mr. McGaw served for many years as a trustee of the university.
  • Lutkin Hall. Built in 1941 and named for the first dean of the Music School, Peter Lutkin, this 400-seat hall was used primarily as a recital space. It ceased to be a Bienen School performance space in 2015, with the opening of the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, and is now operated by the Norris University Center.

Music LibraryEdit

Founded in 1945, the Northwestern University Music Library occupies the second floor of the Charles Deering Library and serves the Bienen School of Music, the entire Northwestern University community, and researchers from around the world.

Among the nation's largest music libraries, it offers 300,000 volumes of books, printed music, sound recordings, and journals, and is distinguished internationally for its extensive holdings of archival materials documenting music composed since 1945. In addition, the library maintains subscriptions to over 400 periodicals, a full array of online resources, thousands of music manuscripts and pieces of correspondence, and houses the archives of John Cage and other notable musicians. The Music Library's computer lab provides a multi-purpose workplace for beginning- to mid-level music technology projects.

Regenstein Hall of Music

Notable AlumniEdit


  1. ^ "Henry S. Bienen – President Emeritus – Biography". Northwestern University. September 2009.
  2. ^ Reich, Howard (May 14, 2008). "Northwestern music school to get new name, more funds -". Chicago Tribune. pp. 2–3. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  3. ^ "Bienen School of Music". Northwestern University Office of Undergraduate Admission. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved July 2, 2011.
  4. ^ "Fall 2008 Enrollment Statistics" (PDF). Northwestern University Office of the Registrar. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 16, 2011. Retrieved July 2, 2011.
  5. ^ "Areas of Study: Bienen School of Music – Northwestern University".
  6. ^ "Victor Yampolsky: Bienen School of Music – Northwestern University".
  7. ^ "Donald Nally: Bienen School of Music – Northwestern University".
  8. ^ "Music Administration Building". Northwestern architecture archives. Retrieved July 2, 2011.
  9. ^ "Northwestern to Build New Music Building". news release. February 19, 2008. Archived from the original on August 18, 2011. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  10. ^ "Breaking Ground, Celebrating the Arts". news release. May 18, 2012. Archived from the original on November 1, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
  11. ^ "Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts | Northwestern School of Communication". Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  12. ^ Rhein, John von. "Best, worst of 2015 in Chicago classical music". Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  13. ^ "Boyer College of Music and Dance | Temple University". Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  14. ^ "Eric Garcia, Conductor". Boise Philharmonic. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  15. ^ "Review: After nearly a decade the ASO returns to Piedmont Park's Oak Hill". ArtsATL. June 24, 2016. Retrieved October 23, 2017.
  16. ^ "San Francisco Symphony's SoundBox is a brass act this weekend". The Mercury News. April 10, 2017. Retrieved October 23, 2017.
  17. ^ "Administration". Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  18. ^ "SLSO". Retrieved September 26, 2017.
  19. ^ "Principal, Boston Symphony Orchestra". Retrieved September 26, 2017.
  20. ^ "We asked Toby Oft ... what's your favorite song?". The Berkshire Eagle. August 4, 2017. Retrieved September 26, 2017.
  21. ^ "Howard Reich". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
General references
  • Pridmore, Jay. Northwestern University: Celebrating 150 Years. Northwestern University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8101-1829-7
  • Rebstock, Heather. Advancing Music for a Century: The First Hundred Years of Northwestern's School of Music. Northwestern University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-9709021-0-7

External linksEdit