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Ellen McSweeney

Chicago , IL      

ELLEN MCSWEENEY is a Chicago-based artist whose work traverses classical music, new music, songwriting, theater, and literature. Recently honored as one of Musical America’s 30 Professionals of the Year, she is the founding violinist of Chicago Q Ensemble, violinist of the International Chamber Artists, and an annual guest of the Gesher Chamber Music Festival.


In addition to her work as a violinist, Ellen is a writer, singer and songwriter. She recently released her debut solo album, The Wrong Idea, and performed its music at ThreeWalls Gallery and Uncommon Ground DevonAs a member of the cast of Holcombe Waller’s groundbreaking show Wayfindersshe has toured to On The Boards Seattle, the MCA Chicago, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Ellen was also recently commissioned by Portland-based AnyWhen Ensemble to write and perform a prose text with the group.


A dynamic interpreter of contemporary music, Ellen regularly gives world premiere performances with Chicago Q Ensemble. She is a frequent guest artist with Fonema Consort, including on their recent album, Pasos en un Otra Calle, which earned a Best of 2014 nod from the Chicago Reader. Other chamber appearances include ensemble dal niente, Access Contemporary Music, and Singers on New Ground. As an improviser, she has performed on the Links Hall Collision Theory series and the City of Chicago’s Juicebox series.


Ellen holds an M.M. from DePaul University and a B.M. from the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, where she earned a second major in creative writing. Before coming to Chicago, she lived in East Africa, serving on the faculty of the Umoja Arts Centre in Arusha, Tanzania. She is now on the faculty of the Music Institute of Chicago.

Articles by Ellen McSweeney:

Headlines September 23 2014 | By Ellen McSweeney
Chicago: Enter the Dollhouse—Colombine’s Paradise Theatre

A 60-minute tour de force, performed completely from memory and without pause, Colombine’s Paradise Theatre is a stunning display of physical and musical virtuosity on the part of its performers.

Headlines September 12 2014 | By Ellen McSweeney
Chicago: Hiking the Song Path, hearing music everywhere

For composer and sound artist Ryan Ingebritsen, Song Path is a practice that explores guided meditation and hiking as a compositional form. Ellen McSweeney caught up with him to chat...

Headlines August 15 2014 | By Ellen McSweeney
All Up In Your Space: Billie Howard on How Artists Live

Is there a mess on the desk? Evidence of vice or obsession? A disruptive cat or two? Billie Jean Howard’s blog By Measure offers the voyeuristic pleasure of vicariously poking...

Headlines June 24 2014 | By Ellen McSweeney
Chicago: The deafening silence of the Beethoven Festival musicians

Why were we silent for nine months as we awaited sums of money that, to us, make or break our ability to pay the rent? For me, the story of...

Headlines May 30 2014 | By Ellen McSweeney
Chicago: The ancient future-music of Sam Scranton

Sam Scranton's Detritivore is an evening-length ensemble work that is both theatrical and restrained, simultaneously epic and intimate, and was so absorbing that I could not write about it without...

Headlines April 30 2014 | By Ellen McSweeney
Chicago: For Practically Everyone—New Label Finds Our Musical Soft Spots

Matt Pakulski, the founder of new Chicago record label FPE, discusses his wide-ranging tastes, his approach to the curation and creation of musical objects, and the label's first release—an album...

Headlines April 17 2014 | By Ellen McSweeney
Chicago: Relearning to Listen–New Piano Music for Children

For her most recent commissioning project, composer and pianist Joann Cho invited a large group of composers to write a solo piano piece for her and asked them to write...

Headlines April 2 2014 | By Ellen McSweeney
Buddhist music-making: how meditation could transform the way you work

We musicians know that silence is as precious as sound itself. But we also, like most human beings, fear the idea of a long silence. Is it safe—is it even...

Articles March 12 2014 | By Ellen McSweeney
Is Contemporary Music Ready for a Baby Boom?

The Affordable Care Act made maternity coverage more accessible for freelance musicians. But is contemporary music—its career arcs, social scenes, traditions, and infrastructure—ready for a baby boom?