Toni-Marie Montgomery, dean of the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University since 2003, will step down at the end of the 2022-23 academic year after a distinguished two-decade tenure, Provost Kathleen Hagerty announced today. As Northwestern’s first African American dean and the first female dean of its music school, Montgomery has launched a host of initiatives that have increased the Bienen School’s visibility and enhanced its status as one of the nation’s top music schools.
“It has been a true honor to serve as dean of this great school,” Montgomery said. “I am extremely proud of the ongoing accomplishments of our faculty, staff, students and alumni, and I appreciate the support of Northwestern presidents Henry Bienen and Morty Schapiro.”
Montgomery’s most enduring legacy is the world-class Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, which opened in 2015. Offering breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, the 155,000-square-foot architectural gem houses three outstanding performance venues as well as faculty studios, administrative offices, and rehearsal and practice spaces. Reuniting the Bienen School community on the lakefront for the first time in four decades, the spectacular building fulfilled a dream shared by every previous Northwestern music school dean.
“I’m thrilled that for generations to come, Bienen School students and faculty will enjoy studying, practicing and performing in the beautiful facilities of the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery will continue to serve as dean for the current academic year and will step down on Aug. 31, 2023. She will continue to serve as a tenured professor. The University will name a committee to launch a global search for Montgomery’s successor soon, Hagerty said.
“For two decades, Toni-Marie Montgomery has consistently pushed the Bienen School’s standards for excellence ever higher,” Hagerty said. “The resulting leaps forward in scholarship and performance, facilities and the core student experience under her leadership will be felt for decades to come. The coming year will provide us with many opportunities to express our gratitude to Dean Montgomery for all she has done for the Bienen School and for Northwestern.”
Montgomery has shaped the school faculty, hiring two-thirds of its current tenured and tenure-eligible professors. Under her leadership, the Bienen School has developed numerous programs to heighten its visibility in the Chicago area as well as nationally and internationally. As the school’s profile has risen, it has increasingly attracted students of the very highest caliber, and admissions have become even more highly selective, with only 10 percent of applicants accepted annually in recent years.
“Toni-Marie Montgomery proved herself to be one of our finest and most respected leaders over the past two decades,” said President Emeritus Morton Schapiro, who left office on Sept. 12. “She strengthened the Bienen School at every level and made it one of the best places in the world for developing new generations of outstanding artists. She also wove the school more fully into the cultural fabric of Chicago, for the benefit of Northwestern and the region.”
The establishment of two biennial international prizes has brought renowned musicians to campus for performances and residencies. The $50,000 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano Performance showcases internationally prominent pianists in performances and master classes. For the $100,000 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition, the dean forged a partnership with the world-renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra to present compositions by the award’s illustrious winners.
Also in Chicago, Montgomery arranged for the Bienen School to present annual concerts at Millennium Park’s popular Jay Pritzker Pavilion and partnered with classical music radio station WFMT-FM for its nationally broadcast “Music from Northwestern” series. In the nation’s capital, the Bienen School was featured in the Conservatory Project of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a showcase for the best student artists from the country’s leading music schools. With the support of Schapiro, the school shared its students’ talents on a global stage with the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra’s first-ever Asia tour, including concerts and alumni events in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Montgomery has led the creation of many Bienen School programs that have greatly enhanced the student experience. The acclaimed Dover Quartet, engaged as the music school’s first quartet-in-residence, gives annual performances and coaches student chamber ensembles. With the launch of the Skyline Piano Artist Series and the Tichio-Finnie Vocal Master Class Series, the school has increased its offerings of campus residencies by prestigious guest artists. The Bienen School has been in the forefront of using technology in music, and its online Davee Media Library disseminates concerts, lectures and master classes throughout the world. Since 2007, all students in Northwestern’s doctor of musical arts program have been provided with full-tuition scholarships, a distinction shared with only two other U.S. music schools.
During Montgomery’s tenure, the Bienen School has increasingly focused on new music, notably through the founding of Northwestern’s Institute for New Music. This multifaceted center for performance and scholarship regularly brings leading composers and performers to campus for festivals, concerts, residencies and symposia as well as its biennial Northwestern University New Music Conference (NUNC!). The school’s Contemporary Music Ensemble, Bienen Contemporary/Early Vocal Ensemble and other groups have presented numerous world premieres, including commissioned works, and the Northwestern Opera Theater has given regional premieres of five operas by prominent contemporary composers.
Winning increased support for the school has been another success story of Montgomery’s deanship. In 2008 the School of Music was renamed the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music in honor of Northwestern’s retiring president and his wife, and donations from trustees, alumni and friends of the University created an endowment that continues to fund scholarships and new initiatives. More recently, the Bienen School surpassed its ambitious fundraising goal for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern. In response to the school’s top campaign priority, contributions established 23 new endowed merit-aid scholarships and fellowships to recruit and retain outstanding music students. As a further legacy to the school, Montgomery has established a piano scholarship in her name and that of her late mother.
To further the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals, Montgomery spearheaded the introduction of a new undergraduate musicology core curriculum that provides students with a more inclusive and diverse representation of music history. The recently inaugurated Black Composers Showcase Series broadens the repertoires performed and studied at the school and educates students and the broader community about the important contributions of composers of color. Music by Black American composers has long been a focus for Montgomery as a performer and educator, notably as a founding member of the Black Music Repertory Ensemble of Columbia College of Chicago, and she is regularly invited to participate in public conversations and media interviews on the topic.
Montgomery currently serves as secretary of the Gateways Music Festival’s board of directors and as a board member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and the Ravinia Festival. An accomplished pianist, she continues to perform on campus as well as across the U.S and internationally.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg