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Northwestern University’s Henry and Leigh 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 major international awards, the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance and the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition; increased guest-artist residencies by internationally renowned performers; established the Institute for New Music; provided all doctor of musical arts candidates with full-tuition scholarships; heightened the school’s visibility through annually recurring high-profile initiatives, including a spring concert in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park; opened a new state-of-the-art music facility; appointed the acclaimed 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.

In 2008 the school was renamed the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, honoring retiring Northwestern University President Henry Bienen and his wife. The naming gift, made possible through the generosity of trustees, alumni, and friends of the University, provides an endowment for scholarships and new creative and scholarly initiatives.

Construction of the school’s new lakefront home began in 2012 and the building opened for academic music classes in spring 2015. Northwestern announced the building would be named the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts in honor of the Ryans’ longtime support of the arts at Northwestern. A dedication ceremony took place September 24, 2015.

Today the Bienen School of Music has an enrollment of more than 600 undergraduate and graduate students and a world-renowned faculty of 125. Students pursue degrees in performance and music studies as well as dual bachelor’s degrees. Alumni hold positions as performers, administrators, and educators in leading arts and educational institutions throughout the world.


2000s

2018

  • The Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra embarks on a three-city tour of Asia, performing concerts in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. 
  • Marc-André Hamelin is named 2018 winner of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.
  • Jennifer Higdon is named 2018 winner of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.
  • Donald Nally, director of choral organization, wins his first Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance.
Asia Tour

2017

  • The Bienen School hosts the 2017 American Liszt Society Festival. 
  • The Symphonic Wind Ensemble performs at the 39th national conference of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA).
  • Professor Hans Thomalla is named a Guggenheim Fellow. 
CBDNA Conference

2016

  • Steve Reich is named 2016 winner of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.

  • Emanuel Ax is named 2016 winner of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance

  • Several Bienen students, faculty and alumni participated in the inaugural Ear Taxi Festival of new music in Chicago. 
     

Ear Taxi Festival

2015

  • The Bienen School’s new music building is named in honor of Patrick and Shirley Ryan.

  • The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts is dedicated September 24.

  • A series of celebration events in honor of the new music building kicks off with the Midwest premiere of John Luther Adams' Sila: The Breath of the World.

  • The Dover Quartet begins a three-year term as Bienen School Quartet-in-Residence.

  • The Skyline Piano Artist Series is established. Ursula Oppens and Jerome Lowenthal present the first recital. 
     

Building Dedication

2014

  • Esa-Pekka Salonen is named 2014 winner of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.
  • Garrick Ohlsson is named 2014 winner of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.
  • The Robert M. and Maya L. Tichio Vocal Master Class series is established. Renée Fleming presents the inaugural class in October. 
Renée Fleming

2013

  • The Robert W. Galvin Foundation makes a $6 million gift in support of the Bienen School of Music, honoring Mary B. Galvin. It is announced that the recital hall in the school’s new music building will be named in Mrs. Galvin’s honor. 
  • Northwestern University Opera Theater presents the Chicago-area premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s opera “The Grapes of Wrath,” featuring guest baritone Robert Orth. 
  • The Institute for New Music holds a two-day celebration in honor of composer Ned Rorem’s 90th birthday.
     
Grapes of Wrath

2012

  • The European Union Youth Orchestra, under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy, concludes their spring tour with a performance at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, featuring pianist and Jean Gimbel Lane Prize winner Yefim Bronfman.
  • Aaron Jay Kernis is named 2012 winner of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.
  • Murray Perahia is named 2012 winner of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.
  • Construction begins on the new music building.
  • The Bienen School establishes the Institute for New Music, a hub for 20th- and 21st-century music. The Institute's inaugural event is a festival commemorating the 100th birthday of John Cage. 
  • The Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble is established. 
New Music

2011

Nemmers Prize winner John Luther Adams spends a week in residency. The School collaborates with Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and the International Contemporary Ensemble for two concerts of music by the composer.

The Bienen School unveils a new strategic plan, outlining the School's vision for the coming decade.

John Luther Adams

2010

Yefim Bronfman is named 2010 winner of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.

John Luther Adams is named 2010 winner of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.

The School mounts festivals dedicated to the music of John Corigliano and Robert Schumann. The former includes the first performance at any school of a new edition of The Ghosts of Versailles.

The Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience celebrates its 25th anniversary. 

Yefim Bronfman

2008

The School of Music is named for retiring NU President Henry Bienen and his wife Leigh through the generosity of the Board of Trustees and friends.

The University announces it will construct a new state-of-the-art building for the School of Music on the lakefront, replacing the Music Administration Building. 

Stephen Hough is named 2008 winner of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.

Kaija Saariaho becomes the 2008 winner of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. 

The School hosts the simulcast of the Richard Tucker Gala, live from New York City, and offers eight other web broadcasts of concerts and master classes.

School Naming

2007

School of Music hosts the second annual conference of the International Society for Improvised Music. 

Beginning fall 2007, all entering doctor of music students receive full tuition scholarships.

Improvised Music

2006

Richard Goode is named inaugural winner of the Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.

Oliver Knussen is named 2006 winner of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. 

Richard Goode

2005

  • School of Music is invited to participate in the Conservatory Project of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Four students perform on the Millennium Stage.
  • The Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance is established.
     
Kennedy Center

2004

  • John Adams is named inaugural winner of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. 
  • Annual instrumental spring festival debuts.
  • International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition hosted by School of Music.
  • A school-produced ten-week radio series heard on WFMT-FM.
  • Northwestern hosts the Society for Seventeenth Century Music conference.
     
John Adams

2003

  • Toni-Marie Montgomery becomes seventh dean.
  • Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition is established.
  • New music listening center and computer lab opens in Deering Library. 
Listening Center

1900s

1915

  • Music Practice Building ("Beehive") is built and equipped with unique soundproof doors.
Beehive

1940

Willard Hall, a women's residence (formerly the Woman's College) is remodeled and renamed the Music Administration Building, housing the music library, all offices and classrooms, and some teaching studios.

Willard Hall

1941

  • Built in 1941, Lutkin Memorial Hall was named in honor of the School of Music’s first dean, Peter Christian Lutkin. The hall’s 400-seat auditorium was used for classes, recital, and concerts.
Lutkin Hall

1958

  • Composer Aaron Copland visits in February and delivers lectures on contemporary music, conducts a performance of his opera The Tender Land, and meets with students and faculty members.
Aaron Copland

1975

  • John Cage spends three days in residence at Northwestern in conjunction with his gift to the Music Library of manuscripts by 277 twentieth-century composers.
  • The Bachelor of Arts in Music degree is established.
  • The 1,003-seat Pick-Staiger Concert Hall opens.
  • Construction for Regenstein Hall of Music begins.
Pick-Staiger

1977

  • Carlo Maria Giulini conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra before a standing-room-only audience at Pick-Staiger.
  • Regenstein Hall of Music, housing the band department, practice rooms, and wind and percussion faculty studios, is dedicated in November. The School of Music vacates Music Hall.
  • Madame Serge Prokofiev meets with students in a discussion moderated by Arrand Parsons during her December trip to attend her husband's opera The Love for Three Oranges at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
  • Thomas Willis leaves the Chicago Tribune after 20 years to become Pick-Staiger's first concert hall director.
Regenstein Hall

1986

  • French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez’s world-renowned Ensemble InterContemporain makes its Chicago-area debut in February at Northwestern’s Patten Gymnasium.
  • The Ganelin Trio, the first Soviet jazz group ever to perform in the U.S., appears at Pick-Staiger as part of a 15-city summer tour.
  • Northwestern hosts the International Conference on Music Bibliography.
Pierre Boulez

1800s

1855

Music instruction starts at Northwestern Female College, which is later incorporated into the Evanston College for Ladies and eventually becomes the Woman's College of Northwestern University.

Woman's College

1871

Cornerstone is laid on July 4 for the Evanston College for Ladies (Woman's College of Northwestern University), now the Music Administration Building.

Music Building

1897

Old Music Hall (now Human Resources) is built as new home for School of Music.

Old Music Hall