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The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Award for Extraordinary Service to Chamber Music

Throughout its centuries-long history, chamber music has been strengthened, broadened, and propagated by individuals and institutions dedicated to the art form. Some of these artists and arts organizations have significantly changed the landscape of chamber music through their passionate commitment and exceptional vision. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has created an award which recognizes those contributors, celebrates their achievements, and expresses gratitude for their service. Recipients of the award are chosen by the Society’s artistic department and may be from a wide variety of fields connected to chamber music. The inaugural award was presented to pianist Menahem Pressler in 2013. There is no set schedule for the awards.

Past Recipients

2024: Orion String Quartet

Over thirty-seven illustrious seasons, the Orion String Quartet has appeared in hundreds of concerts worldwide. Since 1994, the ensemble has regularly blessed CMS stages, performing virtually the entire standard string quartet repertoire, from Bach to Schoenberg, Haydn to Bartók, and beyond. In one of its most memorable series at CMS, the Quartet performed the Beethoven cycle free to the public in 2000, drawing thousands of listeners to the art form.

The Quartet has also recorded to great acclaim the complete string quartet cycles of Beethoven and Kirchner, as well as numerous other individual works from Mendelssohn to Wynton Marsalis. Their collaborators and mentors have included the most distinguished artists of our time, from Pablo Casals to Rudolf and Peter Serkin, and from Isaac Stern to the Végh, Galimir, Budapest, and Guarneri string quartets. The Quartet has also made major contributions to the literature with more than twenty commissions.

Furthermore, the members of the Quartet have remained committed to passing their artistry to the next generation, through teaching affiliations with multiple institutions such as the Mannes School of Music, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Juilliard School.

The Orion String Quartet’s performances have set the highest standard for the art of quartet playing, and the ensemble has had an enduring impact on the world of classical music.

2023: Emerson String Quartet

Over 47 seasons, the Emerson String Quartet has untiringly brought the art of great string quartet performance to multiple continents multiple times, growing a worldwide audience of dedicated quartet enthusiasts. The Quartet has dedicated itself with equal commitment to repertoire of all periods, setting the highest standards for execution and interpretation. The quartet commissioned, premiered, and recorded works by the leading composers of its time and has  recorded virtually the entire standard quartet repertoire to unequalled acclaim, garnering numerous awards, including the first-ever Grammy for Best Classical Album awarded to a chamber ensemble. The Quartet also broke new ground for quartet performance, becoming, for example, the first quartet in history to prove it possible to perform all six Bartók Quartets in a single concert, on this very stage and served as the first resident string quartet of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, from 1982 to 1989, performing, among many works, this organization’s first complete cycle of the Beethoven quartets. The Quartet has set shining examples of mutual artistic respect and support among its members; service to the community; devotion to concert sponsors and audiences; close personal friendships among all its members, past and present, and their families. 

2022: Joan Harris

Joan Harris is the past President and Chair of the Irving Harris Foundation, a Trustee of the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, and in 2014 received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama. Most recently she was honored by her alma mater, Smith College, with the Smith Medal (2016). She has served as President, Chair, Director, and Trustee for many Chicago and national cultural organizations, including the Aspen Music Festival and School, The Juilliard School, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the League of American Orchestras (formerly American Symphony Orchestra League). Mrs. Harris served on the President’s Commission for the National Endowment for the Arts (1990). She was Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs for the City of Chicago (1987–1989) where she worked to emphasize Chicago’s importance as a cultural center both nationally and internationally. She also served as President of the Chicago Opera Theater and the Arts Alliance Illinois (formerly Illinois Arts Alliance). It is through her leadership at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance that small performance companies have a permanent site in which to perform. The Harris Theater currently presents and is host to some of the most important national and international music and dance companies, including the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

2021: Gloria Chien and Soovin Kim

Gloria Chien and Soovin Kim are artistic directors of Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival in Burlington, VT and Chamber Music Northwest in Portland, OR. Gloria is also artistic director of String Theory at the Hunter, a chamber music series at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga TN. As alumni of the CMS Bowers Program, they epitomize the kind of leadership, expertise, and passion that the program was designed to encourage. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they brought chamber music to the people of Burlington, Portland, and Chattanooga by producing digital concerts, featuring both live performances and archival recordings; creating digital lecture series and educational programming; partnering with local public radio and television to extend the reach of programming; and offering many of these programs free to the public in an effort to help sustain them through the pandemic lockdown. As young artistic directors (and stellar performers) they have set an example not only as artists but citizens of the world.

2019: David Shifrin

David Shifrin served as Artistic Director of CMS from 1992 to 2004, leading the organization into the 21st century with an array of spectacular programs performed by a burgeoning cast of extraordinary artists. In 1994, he inaugurated CMS Two, now The Bowers Program, integrating outstanding early-career musicians into the Chambre Music Society’s roster. He just completed his 40th consecutive season as Artistic Director of Chamber Music Northwest and serves as Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Society of Yale University. He has dedicated himself to the performance and recording of chamber music for his instrument with the world’s most distinguished musicians and commissioned numerous composers to write chamber music for clarinet. With no ebb of enthusiasm or energy in sight, he continues to perform with breathtaking artistry, inspiring colleagues, students, and audiences, setting the highest standard for clarinet playing, musicianship, artistic vision, leadership, and dedication to the art of music.

2018: Chamber Music Connection

Chamber Music Connection welcomes musicians of all ages and levels of experience to study and perform chamber music in the Columbus, Ohio area, supporting one hundred students who form twenty to thirty chamber ensembles each year. They offer orchestral and theory training to participants alongside instruction by an associated faculty of over forty professional musicians and additional guest teachers. Presenting over thirty concerts per year, CMC has also produced winners of the most prestigious chamber music competitions. They celebrate the core value of inclusion by requiring no audition for admission to the program and providing need-based financial assistance. Most importantly, Chamber Music Connection imbues in students the democratic values and principles of a civilized society through the art of chamber music.

2016: South Mountain Concerts

South Mountain Concerts has presented chamber music programs and performances of the highest quality since 1918, drawing listeners in search of peak chamber music performances from far and wide. Inviting artists of world-class caliber to enrich the cultural life of the Berkshires every year, SMC maintains not only its commitment to the traditional chamber music repertoire but also, with respect to the passion of its founder, continues to commission and present new works by the finest living composers. SMC preserves a chamber music hall of perfect acoustics, idyllic setting, and modest aesthetic with loving care, providing incomparable musical experiences for the devoted listeners of today and the future. With focused, unwavering dedication to artistic excellence, South Mountain Concerts serves as one of America’s most inspiring examples of chamber music presentation at its absolute finest.

2015: Marlboro Music

Marlboro Music has devoted itself entirely to the art of chamber music since its inception, remaining unchanged in its mission since 1951. It has brought together countless musicians of many generations and backgrounds for the common cause of learning. Through its reputation for principled artistic activity, it has shown chamber music to be an equal to larger musical genres. Marlboro Music has provided hope, vision, and tangible career assistance for young musicians aspiring to lives in chamber music, leading to the formation of some of the world’s most distinguished chamber ensembles. Through its concerts at its home and on tour, Marlboro Music has helped to immeasurably raise the standard of chamber music performance. It remains an artistic center of gravity whose reputation for quality continues to inspire musicians everywhere.

2014: Charles Wadsworth

Charles Wadsworth has performed chamber music in Alice Tully Hall and on stages around the world with passion and dedication. Engaging countless listeners in the art of chamber music through his informative and irresistible spoken concert introductions, he has fostered and sustained chamber music communities through his compelling leadership. He has brought together the world’s greatest musicians to create chamber music performances of unequalled excitement and quality, promoting and elevating chamber music to an art form of the first rank in the eyes of New Yorkers and audiences all over America. He conceived of the concept of a chamber music repertory company, an example now followed by chamber music institutions internationally. Charles Wadsworth created and led the world’s largest presenter and producer of chamber music, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which gratefully attributes its existence to his vision.

2013: Menahem Pressler

Menahem Pressler founded and served as the pianist of the legendary Beaux Arts Trio for fifty-three seasons. He has recorded the entire piano trio repertoire as well as additional chamber and solo repertoire, receiving six Grammy nominations on top of innumerable other prizes, awards, and doctoral degrees. Pressler has taught at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music since 1955, now as Distinguished Professor of Music, where his piano students have gone on to win major international competitions. He has also performed with, mentored, and promoted young chamber music players and ensembles, among them the Emerson, American, Cleveland, Pacifica, and Jupiter Quartets, and has served on the juries of major competitions. At the dawn of his ninety-fifth year, Menahem Pressler continues to give of himself wholly and tirelessly to the art of chamber music, inspiring all whom he touches.