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.

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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.

In 2003 Toni-Marie Montgomery was named the school’s seventh dean—the first woman dean of the school and Northwestern’s first African American dean. Under her leadership the school established two major international awards, increased guest-artist residencies, provided all doctor of musical arts candidates with full-tuition scholarships, established the Institute for New Music, appointed the Dover Quartet as the school’s first quartet-in-residence, opened the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, and initiated a tour to Asia 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.

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. 

Jonathan Bailey Holland has served as dean since 2023.

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Jonathan Bailey Holland is named the school's eighth dean. 

Maria João Pires is awarded the 2023 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.

Tania León is awarded the 2023 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.

The Northwestern University Jazz Ensemble is established.

Dean Holland


Northwestern Opera Theater presents the Midwest premieres of two contemporary operas: Jake Heggie’s If I Were You and Christopher Cerrone’s In a Grove.

If I Were You


The Bienen School exceeds its $70 million fundraising goal for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern.

Sir András Schiff is awarded the 2021 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.

William Bolcom is awarded the 2021 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.

A school-wide Black Composer Showcase series launches to highlight art songs and chamber music by Black composers.

Composer Showcase


The COVID-19 global pandemic forces all spring classes to shift online. In the fall, select Bienen School activities are held in person under strict safety protocols.



  • The Bienen School’s opera program and Institute for New Music collaborate to present the Chicago-area premiere of David T. Little’s Dog Days.

  • Nearly 200 alumni return to campus in June for a celebration concert and reunion in honor of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble’s 50th anniversary.

  • The school launches a new undergraduate core musicology curriculum, providing students more inclusive and diverse representations of classical music.

Dog Days


  • 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 awarded the 2018 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.
  • Jennifer Higdon is awarded the 2018 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.
  • Donald Nally, director of choral organizations, wins his first Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance.
Asia Tour


CBDNA Conference


  • Steve Reich is awarded the 2016 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.

  • Emanuel Ax is awarded the 2016 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance

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

Ear Taxi Festival


  • The Bienen School’s new music building is named in honor of Patrick and Shirley Ryan and dedicated on September 24.

  • A series of celebration events in honor of the new music building begins with the Midwest premiere of John Luther Adams's 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.

  • Northwestern Opera Theatre presents the Chicago-area premiere of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking.

Building Dedication


  • Esa-Pekka Salonen is awarded the 2014 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.
  • Garrick Ohlsson is awarded the 2014 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.
  • The Tichio-Finnie Vocal Master Class Series is established. Renée Fleming presents the inaugural class in October.

Renée Fleming


  • 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


  • The Bienen School establishes the Institute for New Music. The Institute's inaugural event is a festival commemorating the 100th birthday of John Cage. 
  • Construction begins on the new music building.
  • The Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble is established. 
  • Aaron Jay Kernis is awarded the 2012 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.
  • Murray Perahia is awarded the 2012 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.
New Music


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.

John Luther Adams


Yefim Bronfman is awarded the 2010 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.

John Luther Adams is awarded the 2010 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.

Yefim Bronfman


The School of Music is named for retiring Northwestern 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 awarded the 2008 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance.

Kaija Saariaho is awarded the 2008 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


The 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


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

Oliver Knussen is awarded the 2006 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition. 

Richard Goode


  • The 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


  • John Adams is named the inaugural winner of the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition.
  • An International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition is hosted by the School of Music.
  • Northwestern hosts the Society for Seventeenth Century Music conference.
John Adams


  • Toni-Marie Montgomery is named the school’s seventh dean—and the first woman and first African American dean in the school’s history. 
  • The Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition is established.
  • The new music listening center opens in Deering Library. 
Listening Center


Robert Harris, Northwestern School of Music’s then director of choral organizations, leads the University Chorale on a European performance tour May 26 to June 4, 2002. Concerts are held in London, Prague and Vienna.

European Tour



The first Winter Chamber Music Festival is held. Daniel Barenboim performs as guest artist on the Brahms Piano Quintet in the final concert of the first season.

Winter Chamber Music


As part of the school’s centennial celebration, Chicago’s Orchestra Hall hosted an all-school gala concert that featured faculty mezzo-soprano Mignon Dunn, the Symphony Orchestra under Victor Yampolsky, and a combined chorus led by Robert Harris.

The Evelyn Dunbar Memorial Early Music Festival is established.

Mallory Thompson becomes Director of Bands—the third person (and first woman) to hold the title at Northwestern. 



The Segovia Classical Guitar Series is established. The first season coincides with the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia.

Segovia Series


Bernard J. Dobroski is named the school’s sixth dean.

Bernard J. Dobroski


  • Commissioned by the Big Ten Band Directors Association, Maslanka’s Symphony No. 2 is premiered at the 24th CBDNA national conference in Evanston by combined personnel of the Symphonic Band and Symphonic Wind Ensemble.
24th CBDNA


  • 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


The Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience (CSEME) is founded by Bennett Reimer. CSEME would later celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2010 (pictured), and it continues today as an important research center.



Victor Yampolsky is named director of orchestras. He would later be named the first chairholder of the Carol F. and Arthur L. Rice Jr. University Professorship in Music Performance.

Victor Yampolsky


  • 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


  • 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.


Northwestern bestows an honorary degree upon famed Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The School of Music hosts a reception in honor of the composer with music faculty and students. Shostakovich also attends an afternoon of music, where he hears a work by associate professor Alan Stout.

Dmitri Shostakovich


Thomas W. Miller is named dean of the School of Music. 

Thomas Miller


Princess Irene of Greece stops at the School of Music during a visit to the Chicago area. The purpose of her trip was to observe American practices in music education. While attending an opera workshop rehearsal, she laughed out loud during a scene from The Barber of Seville, which pleased students. 

A royal visit


  • The Northwestern University Saxophone Quartet spent three months touring Asia and Oceania in 1966 under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State., beginning in the Fiji Islands and ending in Japan. Led by Professor Fred Hemke, the group performed for the King and Queen of Thailand, played with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra in South Korea, and performed for more than 15,000 people in Taiwan.
Saxophone Quartet


Alumnus Ralph Votapek ’60 wins the inaugural Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. 

Ralph Votapek


  • The Concert Wind Ensemble, later named the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, performs at the 11th national conference of the College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) under the direction of John P. Paynter, the first of many subsequent conference performances that would solidify the ensemble’s status as an artistic paragon.
Wind Ensemble


  • 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


  • John P. Paynter becomes director of bands following his mentor Glenn Cliffe Bainum’s retirement. Paynter had become assistant director in 1950 as a graduate student and would spend his entire 45-year teaching career at Northwestern.
  • The Doctor of Music degree is established
John P. Paynter


George Howerton, a 20-year faculty veteran, is named dean. 

George Howerton


Northwestern marimba players Margaret Elliston ’48, Betty Atterberry Chandler ’49, Jean Smith ’46, Jean McWethy Mater ’48, and Joyce McWethy Kostuck ’50 represent Northwestern in a concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Marimbas at Carnegie


The Music Library opens. What began as a few books in the campus's main library—the Charles Deering Library—grew substantially during the 1950s.

Music Library


  • 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


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


The A Cappella Choir, under director Max T. Krone, wins national attention with an 11-concert East Coast tour that ended with a nationally broadcast performance at Carnegie Hall.

A Cappella Choir


Carl Beecher, who had earned the school’s first bachelor’s degree, is named dean.

Carl Beecher


  • The music school’s formal band program begins under the leadership of Glenn Cliffe Bainum, Northwestern’s first director of bands. In his first two years, Bainum expands the band from 17 to more than 100 members. 
Glenn Cliffe Bainum


  • Music Practice Building ("Beehive") is built and equipped with unique soundproof doors.
  • Frederick Stock, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, receives the school’s first honorary doctorate degree.


The first North Shore Music Festival is held in Patten Gymnasium. Founded by Peter Christian Lutkin, the annual event quickly gained national recognition. The last festival would be held in 1939.

North Shore Festival



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

Old Music Hall


The School of Music at Northwestern is established, with Peter Christian Lutkin serving as its first dean.

Peter Lutkin


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


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