Reimagining the Don Michael Randel Ensemble-in-Residence during Covid-19



By Danielle Frabutt Garcia


Facing the challenges that have been forced upon music and arts communities over the past year, members of the Department sought to continue the Don Michael Randel Ensemble-in-Residence program in the 2020-21 academic year, amidst event cancellations, postponements, and travel restrictions. How can the Department encourage meaningful engagement between world-class artists and the campus community when in-person events aren’t allowed?

The Randel Residency program, created in 2013, was developed to 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." Ensembles that have held the residency in the past include GRAMMY Award-winning Pacifica Quartet, the Imani Winds, and Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Spring 2020 brought the postponement of the final performance by Ensemble-in-Residence Plena Libre and the decision to delay the Residency engagement with Quatuor Diotima due to Covid-19. As uncertainty and concerns rose, 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. 

The three ensembles who share the Don Michael Randel residency for 2020-21, Axiom Brass, ~Nois, and Quince Vocal Ensemble 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. They have been asked to share their energetic performances and expertise in virtual activities while accommodating the ever-changing guidelines.

As in-person engagement was very limited, the ensembles prepared a range of virtual activities including a performance on the brilliant virtual concert series with UChicago Presents to University and community initiatives within Hyde Park. Appointing these ensembles would also allow the opportunity to present in-person events without extensive travel as restrictions are lifted.

Ensembles-in-residence regularly present a concert with UChicago Presents, participate in an extensive composition project with student composers, and perform alongside Performance Program ensembles. This year, in-person concerts are turned into recording sessions with the performances shared on the UCP’s virtual concert series with additional opportunities to engage with the artists in reception events. Composition students are participating in virtual workshops with the musicians, having dynamic conversations exploring the compositional limits of instrumentation and vocal range, exchanging ideas, and preparing to record these compositions, written especially for the ensembles, later this summer.

Restrictions of remote learning, the latency of Zoom and other platforms for adequate synchronous rehearsal, and the inability to gather large ensembles on stage together for a performance meant the collaborative concert with student ensembles couldn’t be scheduled. Luckily, even with restrictions, the Ensembles have been able to work with the Department’s Performance Program students in their Zoom rehearsal space. Axiom Brass and Quince Vocal Ensemble will return in the 2021-22 academic year to perform with the University Wind Ensemble and Women’s Ensemble respectively.

This year’s residency has also brought all of the ensembles to the International House’s Global Voices series, with lecture-recital presentations and special workshops showcasing their music and performance techniques in discussions with students. Out in the community, the groups have presented virtual workshops with the UChicago Lab School, the Merit School of Music, The People’s Music School, and Montgomery Place Senior Engaged Living Center. Even while being at home or in their studios, the ensembles have met the demands of the virtual world we’ve been living in, offering quality, engaging content that delights students and audiences in energizing and inspiring ways.

The campus and Chicago community can enjoy virtual presentations this April from ~Nois and this May from Quince.

  • The International House presents ~Nois in a concert followed by a discussion on April 8 at 6:00 p.m.
  • Quince is hosted by the International House on May 20 at 6:00 p.m.
  • Quince performs on the UChicago Presents virtual concert series on May 21 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15-20, free for UChicago students, available at

Looking forward to next year, the Department is planning for a full year of exceptional music artistry and in-person events with the Don Michael Randel Ensembles-in-Residence. The Department will welcome back Plena Libre this fall to complete their residency, along with concerts from Axiom and Quince, and other artists.

About ~Nois


~Nois is a Chicago-based saxophone quartet that defies categorization by working between the boundary of contemporary classical music and experimental improvisation. Founded in 2016, ~Nois (pronounced "noise") has quickly emerged as one of the premier young ensembles in the United States. Since its founding, ~Nois has given over 70 performances in 20 states and has been awarded prizes at prestigious chamber music competitions including the Second Prize in the Open Division of the 2018 M-Prize International Chamber Arts Competition and the Silver Medal at the 2017 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. ~Nois is dedicated to expanding and redefining the saxophone quartet repertoire and has premiered over 30 pieces including works by 2019 Gaudeamus Prize winner Kelley Sheehan and 2018 Guggenheim Fellow Tonia Ko. On June 26, 2020, the quartet released its debut album titled Is This ~Nois, a celebration of the music of Chicago.

~Nois is Hunter Bockes, János Csontos, Jordan Lulloff, and Brandon Quarles.

About Axiom Brass

Axiom Brass

Axiom Brass has been described as “exceptional ambassadors for classical music” and “innovative programmers” and as such designs concert experiences for audiences that stretch the imagination and expand sensibilities. Their concert programs regularly pair newer works by composers such as Rouse and Sampson with traditional works by Monteverdi and rousing tangos by Piazzolla. In 2016, the Chicago-based ensemble commissioned ten new works to celebrate their 10th anniversary, including compositions by Augusta Read Thomas, Liduino Pitombeira, David Faleris, Matt Ulery, and Ben Hjertmann. These compositions can be heard on their newest album, First Impressions.

They are the only brass ensemble to ever win the Fischoff Educator Award and create custom workshops and residency activities for presenters and their communities. The group’s commitment to education and their interactive teaching style has led to residencies at the Grand Tetons Music Festival and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, as well as being featured as ensemble-in-residence for the National Brass Symposium.

Axiom Brass is Trumpeters: Dorival Puccini, Jr., Michael Hawes, Hornist: Matthew Bronstein,
Trombonist: Corey Sansolo, Tubist: Kevin Harrison

About Quince


Quince Ensemble - Singing with the precision and flexibility of modern chamber musicians, Quince Ensemble is changing the paradigm of contemporary vocal music. Described as "the Anonymous 4 of new music" by Opera News, Quince continually pushes the boundaries of vocal ensemble literature. As dedicated advocates of new music, Quince regularly commissions new works, providing wider exposure for the music of living composers. They recently launched the Quince New Music Commissioning Fund, a fund to grow the repertoire for women and treble voices. Quince thrives on unique musical challenges and genre-bending contemporary repertoire.

Quince is Liz Pearse (soprano), Kayleigh Butcher (mezzo-soprano), Amanda DeBoer Bartlett (soprano), and Carrie Henneman Shaw (soprano).