9 New Chicago Ensembles You Should Know

By Keegan Morris |

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In 2019, WFMT introduced you to some new, up-and-coming ensembles that you should know about. Now, one pandemic, two mayors, and four years later, we are spotlighting a new crop of arrivals to the Chicago classical music scene.


Founded: 2016



ATLYS will not be confined to any one box. Sure, its foundations are in classical music; all members have extensive orchestra experience, with three quarters of the quartet being alums of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. But the group excels equally in classical and crossover settings (one recent single is an instrumental setting of Carly Rae Jepsen’s jubilant pop anthem “Call Me Maybe”). The polymath group also offers music education, session work, and loops. The quartet’s all-in-one approach makes it truly unique within Chicago and the US.

2. Chamber Music Chicago

Founded: 2019

Janet Sung

Janet Sung (Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)

An avid chamber music performer, violinist Janet Sung started Chamber Music Chicago to champion leading collaborators from Chicago and beyond. As the organization’s artistic director, Sung balances staples of the collaborative artform with new commissions, all the while aiming to serve artists and audiences as a “hub for classical chamber music in the Midwest.

3. Chicago Immigrant Orchestra

Founded: 1999; revived 2019
The Chicago Immigrant Orchestra dates back to 1999, when the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events chartered the group to launch its inaugural Chicago World Music Festival. The ensemble continued for several years and disbanded in the mid-2000s. Fifteen years later, the city sought to revive the group. Now led by Fareed Haque and Wanees Zarour, the 20-strong ensemble’s members hail from countries around the world. In performances in Chicago and the greater Midwest, artists explore the ties that bind musical forms that span continents and peoples.

4. Galvin Cello Quartet

Founded: 2021

Galvin Cello Quartet

This multinational cello ensemble has its roots firmly in the Chicago area: the members of Galvin Cello Quartet came together as students at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music. Inspired by their collaborations at the school, they formed a group and named it after Bienen’s flagship performance space: the Galvin Recital Hall. Though still fledgling, the group is not lacking for chops: they won silver at the 2021 Fischoff Competition before winning gold at the 2022 Victor Elmaleh Competition.

5. Hearing in Color

Founded: 2017

Brian Major (Taylor) and Steve Wallace in rehearsal for Hearing in Color’s world premiere presentation of Undying Love (Photo: Forestt LaFave)

Hearing in Color is helmed by someone WFMT listeners will be familiar with. LaRob K. Rafael is the artistic director of the organization, which highlights music by composers who have been historically underrepresented. Past performances have focused on Filipino music (the program later aired on WFMT) and Latinidad, paid tribute to late Representative John Lewis, and mounted the world premiere of a chamber opera by Chicago composer Steve Wallace.

6. Juliani Ensemble

Founded: 1999; new leadership ~2021

Juliani Ensemble

From left to right: Anita Graef, Emily Seaberry Graef, and Julian Graef of the Juliani Ensemble (Photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography)

The ensemble isn’t new, but the leadership is. Juliani Ensemble was founded in the late ’90s by Chicago flute player Emily Seaberry Graef. Over the last few years, says Graef, the ensemble has changed hands (and generations). Her children, violinist Julian Graef and cellist Anita Graef, now handle the programming, artistic initiatives, management, and other administrative duties. Calling the transition a “happy accident” of COVID-19. Graef explains that it was the pandemic that brought Julian and Anita to return to Chicago. From there, they ended up “running the ensemble they grew up with!”

7. New Earth Ensemble

Founded: 2021

New Earth Ensemble (Photo courtesy NEE)

New is even in the name! New Earth Ensemble was founded in 2021 with a very specific and principled focus: environmentalism. Stemming from the EcoVoice Project, a festival centering on environmentalism and music which had its inaugural season in 2022, the choral ensemble is active in the Chicago area, with upcoming performances highlighting works by John Luther Adams and Robert Kyr. And if this marriage of music and mission calls to you, note that not only is the ensemble is accepting auditions, but also, 2023 will see the creation of a new ensemble, the EcoVoice Community Chorus.

8. NEXUS Chamber Music

Founded: 2018

Alexander Hersh (L) and Brian Hong (R), co-artistic directors of NEXUS Chamber Music

NEXUS stems from Alexander Hersh and Brian Hong. The ensemble seeks to explore the boundaries of chamber music repertoire through wide-ranging concerts and digital engagement. NEXUS is the ensemble-in-residence at the Loop’s Guarneri Hall (the venue is owned and operated by Stefan Hersch, father of the ensemble’s Alexander Hersh) and keeps up a busy engagement schedule at that venue. In addition to gigs around the city and beyond, NEXUS mounts an annual chamber music festival, which sees a procession of top-tier talent collaborate with Hong and Hersh.

9. Trio Diorama

Founded: 2023

Nick Photinos

Nick Photinos

The newest ensemble on this list; as of publication, this trio’s only recital has been its January 29, 2023, live performance debut! The ensemble is made up of three distinguished Chicago artists: pianist Winston Choi, violinist MingXuan Hu, and cellist Nick Photinos. So even though we know little about what type of projects and repertoire the group will take on, we know the standard of artistry will be high!