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The Chamber Music Society’s numerous activities—from concerts and education programs, to commissioning projects and young artist development programs—are informed by this vision, which was articulated in 1969 when the Chamber Music Society was founded. The purposes for which The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is created are to stimulate and support the appreciation, performance and composition of chamber music:

  • By presenting chamber music concerts at which the public may hear works deemed worthy of performance and performed by artists selected by the Chamber Music Society,
  • By commissioning and performing for the public and by sponsoring or arranging for the publication of new chamber music works written by composers selected by the Chamber Music Society,
  • By sponsoring or arranging for the reproduction, by mechanical, electronic or other means, of chamber music performances presented or chamber music works commissioned by the Chamber Music Society for television, radio, recording and other like means of public presentation and dissemination,
  • By presenting, sponsoring or providing for programs and activities designed to stimulate and encourage exposure to and understanding, knowledge and appreciation of the literature, history and performance of chamber music, and
  • By acquiring and maintaining collections of material pertinent to the performance and appreciation of chamber music, including literature, manuscripts, scores, recordings, tapes and to other forms of reproductions, and by making any or all of the foregoing available to others by whatever means deemed appropriate by the Chamber Music Society.


In 1965, as plans for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts were in the final stages, the distinguished American composer and President of Lincoln Center, William Schuman, first conceived of an organization dedicated to performing chamber music. This organization would have its own specially designed chamber music hall, and take its place among the ballet, symphonic, and opera companies at Lincoln Center. Renown pianist Charles Wadsworth took on the challenge of the creation and artistic direction of the organization. With the patronage and inspiring leadership of Alice Tully, the first Chair of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the plan came to fruition. On September 11, 1969, Alice Tully Hall opened with the first performance by the Chamber Music Society, beginning a new era for the art form in the United States.

Artistic Leadership

In 2004, CMS appointed cellist David Finckel (cellist for 34 years for the Emerson String Quartet) and pianist Wu Han artistic directors. They succeeded founding director Charles Wadsworth (1969-89), Fred Sherry (1989-93), and David Shifrin (1993-2004). Among their many accolades, in 2012 they were named Musical America’s Musicians of the Year.


CMS is committed to bringing audiences the finest performances of an extraordinary body of repertoire, dating as far back as the Renaissance and continuing through the centuries to the greatest works of our time. In its commitment to building the chamber music repertoire, CMS has commissioned over 160 new works from an impressive array of composers, including Bruce Adolphe, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, William Bolcom, Chen Yi, John Corigliano, George Crumb, John Harbison, Alberto Ginastera, Morton Gould, Oliver Knussen, Frank Martin, Darius Milhaud, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Wolfgang Rihm, Bright Sheng, Jukka Tiensuu, Joan Tower, Huw Watkins, Zhou Long, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. CMS also supports the work of living composers by awarding the Elise L. Stoeger Prize, a $25,000 cash award given every other year to an outstanding composer of chamber music.

The Bowers Program

Dedicated to developing the chamber music leaders of the future, CMS created The Bowers Program, the highly regarded and competitive three-season residency for gifted, early career chamber music ensembles and individuals, that fully integrates members into every facet of CMS activity. The Bowers Program is the galvanizing springboard for many of the greatest careers in chamber music, and is crucial to the vibrant future of CMS and chamber music. As a clear sign of its success, more than half of the artist roster at CMS this season is comprised of alumni of The Bowers Program, as well as current and incoming members. These are the artists whose passion and artistry will transport audiences for the next 60 years. There is no other equivalent program, nothing which provides young artists with such a wealth of opportunities: performances at Alice Tully Hall; national and international tour appearances; numerous radio broadcasts; recordings; individualized mentorship throughout the residency and beyond; and access to a global network of renowned chamber musicians and presenters. Following the residency period, many Bowers Program alumni are invited to return to CMS as Artists of the Season. Violinist Angelo Xiang Yu, a 2018-21 Bowers Program Individual Artist, remarked: “The program gives us young musicians tremendous opportunities to perform on the most distinguished stages.” Cellist Nicholas Canellakis, a Season Artist with CMS since he completed the program in 2011-12 wrote: “There isn't a single musical organization in the country that helps young musicians like the Chamber Music Society does with The Bowers Program.”

Education Programs

Thousands of children, teens, and adults discover the joys of chamber music and deepen their knowledge and appreciation of this beautiful art form through CMS education programs. CMS offers an extraordinary number of learning formats and experiences to engage and inform listeners of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of musical knowledge, and to provide unique educational opportunities for the most talented early career chamber musicians. This includes: school-based programs for elementary school students, family concerts in both traditional and casual formats, teen-centered programs, master classes throughout the United States and internationally, pre-concert composer chats, and insightful lectures for adults on the season’s repertoire.

Chamber Music Beginnings introduces New York City elementary school children from all over the city to chamber music. CMS Kids, our newest program, features an inclusive concert experience in a less formal setting, supportive of sensory, communication, movement, and learning needs. The popular Meet the Music! family concerts open up the world of live chamber music through humor and entertainment. Middle and high school students who audition successfully for the Young Ensembles and Young Musicians programs receive professional coachings from CMS artists and experience the thrill of performing at regional concert venues in the tri-state area and on the Alice Tully Hall and the Rose Studio stages at Lincoln Center. Middle and high school students also attend Music Up Close working rehearsals where they interact with CMS musicians. Bruce Adolphe’s Inside Chamber Music lecture series offers in-depth explorations of season repertoire. CMS artists and guest artists give Master Classes that reveal the fine points of musical interpretation, lending fascinating transparency to musicianship at the highest level. Through these multifaceted education programs, CMS demonstrates its leading role in nurturing the audiences, composers, and artists of the future.


In keeping with its mission to develop audiences for chamber music, both nationally and internationally, CMS gives on average 70 performances per season outside of New York City, including concerts in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia – all providing the same consistent, extraordinary quality of performances, beautifully crafted and engaging programs, and the opportunity to hear the world’s foremost chamber musicians.


The annual CMS season now includes several residencies. These encompass a summer festival home at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, in Saratoga, New York, featuring six concerts over three weeks; and annual multi-concert residencies at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia; the Harris Theater in Chicago, Illinois; the Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, SUNY, in Purchase, New York; Drew University in Madison, New Jersey; Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky; and the St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Media and Live Streaming

Through its unparalleled live streaming capabilities, its website, annual radio series, and additional radio programming, CMS events are available to audiences everywhere. CMS live streams a broad selection of events including concerts, lectures, and master classes on its website and mobile app, and also archives selected material for on-demand viewing. Live streams and live recorded concerts are also shared in partnership with Tencent, Medici.tv, and AllArts. CMS has one of the broadest radio presences of any classical music organization in the world, reaching over 8 million listeners over the course of its 2017-2018 broadcast season. Listeners can hear its weekly radio series of live recorded performances hosted by Co-Artistic Director David Finckel and including commentary from the featured artists, throughout North America, with additional broadcasts of select programming in Europe and China. In addition, CMS performances are featured on SiriusXM, and American Public Media’s Performance Today. Online, the series is available on the CMS website and CMS mobile apps.


Through its own label distributions, and in partnership with many of the industry’s finest labels, CMS offers recordings that span its entire 50 year history.

In 2007, CMS launched its first ever in-house recording label, CMS Studio Recordings, with a mission to capture selected CMS performances under optimal recording conditions using the latest audiophile technology. The most recent release under this label features works of Schumann and Mendelssohn and was the April 2014 Cover CD in BBC Magazine.

In April 2015, Deutche Grammophon released a live-concert recording of the piano quartets of Mahler, Schumann and Brahms, recorded at CMS and featuring CMS Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han, with violinist Daniel Hope and violist Paul Neubauer.

In addition to its long history of studio recording, CMS also offers some of its most extraordinary live performances on the CMS Live label, readily available for download through iTunes and Amazon. Most recently CMS recorded Odyssey: The Chamber Music Society in Greece (2019), from Live From Lincoln Center's first production outside the U.S., and Simple Gifts (2016), featuring Copland’s Appalachian Spring and other American-inspired works, distributed by Naxos of America. Prior to launching CMS Live, the Chamber Music Society partnered for several years with Deutsche Grammophon to produce live performance recordings which are now available for download on the DG Concerts label.

The repertoire of CMS’s historical discography ranges from treasured Baroque gems, including a performance of Bach’s Complete Brandenburg Concertos that Fi Magazine named one of the best recordings of that year; through masterworks of every period, that include the Grammy nominated Complete Chamber Music of Claude Debussy, produced in partnership with the Delos label; and into some of the most important contemporary premieres that CMS has performed and commissioned.