In 2013, the University of Chicago created a new program, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, that would provide a permanent home for world-class musicians at the University of Chicago. Named for University of Chicago President Emeritus Don Randel, the residency program enables deep engagement between exceptional visiting musical ensembles and UChicago faculty, students and staff.
Randel, a noted musicologist, served as president of the University of Chicago from 2000-2006, when he took over as president of the Mellon Foundation. Upon his retirement in 2013, the foundation awarded the grant for the Ensemble-in-Residence in recognition to Randel's sustained and inspired advocacy of the value of music in a liberal arts education, as well as his transformational leadership for the arts and humanities throughout his career in academia and philanthropy.
The GRAMMY Award-winning Pacifica Quartet, which had long been a resident ensemble of the Department of Music and UChicago Presents, became the first Don Michael Randel Ensemble-in-Residence. In addition to performances on the Contempo series and through UChicago Presents, the quartet presented workshops for students and visited classes, sharing their expertise with both undergraduate and graduate students.
When the University bid farewell to Pacifica in 2016, a new ensemble, Imani Winds, was welcomed to the position for two years. The Imanis became beloved by both students and community members for their vibrant performances of new and existing music, and their brought their experience and expertise to the community as well, coaching students at the UChicago Laboratory School and collaborating with locally rooted artists and ensembles.
In 2018, the award-winning a cappella group Sweet Honey In The Rock, known as much for its artistic output as for its political message and its members activism, joined the University for a one year tenure, and in fall 2019, the University welcomed the Puerto Rican plena and bomba ensemble Plena Libre. During the 2019-20 academic year, Plena Libre offered public performances, including one with the University Symphony Orchestra, participated in luncheons and panel discussions, visited music and Spanish language classes, participated in workshops with UChicago composers, performed for plena and bomba dance workshops, and more. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic in spring of 2020, Plena Libre's final residency activities were postponed.
As uncertainty and concerns rose for the 2020-21 academic year, featuring ensembles with a relationship and proximity to Chicago was not just a practical choice, but an exciting opportunity for the University to support nearby chamber musicians through an immensely challenging year. Three ensembles share the Don Michael Randel residency for 2020-21, Axiom Brass, ~Nois, and Quince Vocal Ensemble. These groups have not only grown as accomplished and world-renowned performers over the last decade, but these ensembles have done extensive work in developing ways to engage audiences beyond the in-person, staged performance.
Read more about reimagining the Ensemble-in-Residence during the Covid-19 pandemic.