Winter Chamber Music Festival lineup includes James Ehnes, Stephanie Blythe

James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong return to the Winter Chamber Music Festival Jan. 10 and 12, 2020. Photo by Elliot Mandel.

Northwestern University’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music begins the 24th annual Winter Chamber Music Festival Jan. 10. Performances include the festival debuts of the Aizuri Quartet, American String Quartet and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, as well as the return of Grammy Award-winning violinist James Ehnes, pianist Andrew Armstrong and the Dudok Quartet Amsterdam.

All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, located at 50 Arts Circle Drive on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

The 2020 Winter Chamber Music Festival is made possible in part by the generous support of the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation.

The festival schedule is as follows: 

James Ehnes, violin and Andrew Armstrong, piano

Friday, Jan. 10, 2020
Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020

Among the foremost violinists of his generation, James Ehnes is a favorite guest of renowned conductors Vladimir Ashkenazy, Marin Alsop and Sir Andrew Davis. Recent orchestral performance highlights have included the Met Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, London Symphony and Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. Ehnes appears regularly in recital at Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall, Chicago’s Symphony Center and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. He has earned many awards for the recordings in his extensive discography, including a 2019 Grammy Award for his live recording of Aaron Jay Kernis’s Violin Concerto with the Seattle Symphony and Ludovic Morlot, and a Gramophone Award for his live recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davis. Pianist Andrew Armstrong has dazzled audiences throughout the world, with performances at such venues as Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory and Warsaw’s National Philharmonic. He has performed with conductors including Peter Oundjian, Itzhak Perlman, Günther Herbig, Stefan Sanderling, Jean-Marie Zeitouni and Stanisław Skrowaczewski, and appeared in chamber music concerts with the Elias, Alexander, American and Manhattan String Quartets.

Over two performances, Ehnes and Armstrong complete their survey of Beethoven violin sonatas, begun during the 2019 Winter Chamber Music Festival. The Jan. 10 program features Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas No. 1 in D Major, No. 3 in E-flat Major, No. 4 in A Minor and No. 5 in F Major (“Spring”). The Jan. 12 program features Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas No. 6 in A Major, No. 8 in G Major and No. 9 in A Major (“Kreutzer”). 

Aizuri Quartet

Friday, Jan. 17, 2020

Praised by the Washington Post for captivating performances drawing from a notable “meld of intellect, technique and emotions,” the Aizuri Quartet was awarded the Grand Prize and the Concert Artists Guild (CAG) Management Prize at the 2018 M-Prize Chamber Arts Competition, as well as top prizes at the 2017 Osaka International Chamber Music Competition and the 2015 Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition. The quartet has commissioned and premiered new works by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, Lembit Beecher, Paul Wiancko, Yevgeniy Sharlat, Gabriella Smith, Rene Orth, Michi Wiancko and Alyssa Weinberg. Its critically acclaimed debut album “Blueprinting,” which showcased many of these new works, was nominated for a 2019 Grammy Award in the category of Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. During the 2019-20 season, the quartet will tour extensively across North America, making debut appearances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall as part of the CAG Winner’s Series. Their festival program, ranging from arrangements of medieval and Renaissance music to 20th-century music, features Hildegard von Bingen’s “Columba aspexit” (arranged for string quartet by Alex Fortes); the Carlo Gesualdo madrigals “O tenebroso giorno” and “‘Io parto’ e non più dissi” (arranged for string quartet by Alex Fortes); Conlon Nancarrow’s String Quartet No. 3; Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in B Minor, Op. 64, No. 2; and Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp Minor. 

Dudok Quartet Amsterdam

Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020

Recipient of a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award, the prestigious Dutch Kersjes Prize, and prizes in the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition and Joseph Joachim International Chamber Music Competition, the Dudok Quartet Amsterdam made its U.S. debut as part of the 2018 Winter Chamber Music Festival. The quartet has appeared at major European venues and festivals including the Vienna Konzerthaus, Carinthischer Sommer Festival, Festival Quatuors à Bordeaux and the Amsterdam String Quartet Biennale, and has appeared regularly at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Muziekgebouw. In September, they released their latest album on the Resonus Classics label, the first volume in a collection of Opus 20 string quartets by Joseph Haydn. Other recent projects have included the world premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s “Only the Sound Remains” with Philippe Jaroussky and the Dutch National Opera, and a collaboration with director Rosabel Huguet reimagining Beethoven’s Op. 132 String Quartet for children. Their program features Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 20, No. 2; David Faber’s arrangement of Olivier Messiaen’s “Oraison” from “Fête des belles eaux”; Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Suite from “Castor et Pollux”; and Maurice Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major. This performance is followed by a subscriber reception. 

Bienen Faculty and Guests

Friday, Jan. 24, 2020

Bienen faculty Andrew RacitiJosé Ramón MéndezSteven Cohen and Gail Williams are joined by guests Alexander KerrLawrence NeumanStephen BalderstonKay Kim and Lewis Kirk for an evening of chamber music by Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms. Their program features Beethoven’s Sonata for Horn and Piano in F Major, Brahms’s Clarinet Trio in A Minor and Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major.

American String Quartet with Stephanie Blythe

Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020

Celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2019, the American String Quartet began its career winning both the Coleman Competition and the Naumburg Award in the same year. The group’s presentations of the complete quartets of Beethoven, Schubert, Schoenberg, Bartók and Mozart have won critical acclaim, and their MusicMasters Complete Mozart String Quartets, performed on a matched quartet set of instruments by Stradivarius, are widely considered to have set the standard for the repertoire. The quartet’s 2018-19 season included performances of a collaboration with National Book Award-winning author Phil Klay and poet Tom Sleigh, in a program combining music and readings examining the effects of war on people’s hearts and minds. The quartet also collaborated with author Salman Rushdie in a work for narrator and quartet by film composer Paul Cantelon, built around Rushdie’s novel “The Enchantress of Florence.” Joining the quartet is renowned mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, recipient of the 1999 Richard Tucker Award and the 2007 Opera News Award and Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year for 2009. Blythe has performed leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Seattle Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden and the Opéra National de Paris. In the 2018-19 season she returned to the Metropolitan Opera for “Il trittico” and “La Fille du Régiment” and made her Dallas Opera debut in “Falstaff.” Their program features Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 76, No. 4 (“Sunrise”); Ottorino Respighi’s “Il Tramonto”; a selection of Franz Schubert lieder, including “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (Death and the Maiden); and Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor (“Death and the Maiden”).

Stephanie Blythe will give a master class for Bienen vocal students at 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 27 in Galvin Recital Hall as part of the 2019-20 Tichio-Finnie Vocal Master Class Series. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $5 for full-time students with a valid I.D.

Single tickets for any Winter Chamber Music Festival concert are $30 for the general public and $10 for full-time students with a valid ID. Tickets are available at, by phone at 847-467-4000, or by visiting the ticket office located in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, at 50 Arts Circle Drive on the Evanston campus.

Winter Chamber Music Festival subscriptions also are available and include a variety of benefits, including savings of up to 30 percent off the single-ticket price.

For tickets and more information, call the Bienen School ticket office at 847-467-4000 or visit

Jan 10 2020 - 7:30pm
Jan 12 2020 - 7:30pm
Jan 17 2020 - 7:30pm
Jan 19 2020 - 7:30pm
Jan 24 2020 - 7:30pm
Jan 26 2020 - 7:30pm