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Ellen McSweeney

Chicago , IL      

ELLEN MCSWEENEY is a Chicago-based artist whose work traverses classical music, new music, songwriting, theater, and literature. Recently honored as one of Musical America’s 30 Professionals of the Year, she is the founding violinist of Chicago Q Ensemble, violinist of the International Chamber Artists, and an annual guest of the Gesher Chamber Music Festival.


In addition to her work as a violinist, Ellen is a writer, singer and songwriter. She recently released her debut solo album, The Wrong Idea, and performed its music at ThreeWalls Gallery and Uncommon Ground DevonAs a member of the cast of Holcombe Waller’s groundbreaking show Wayfindersshe has toured to On The Boards Seattle, the MCA Chicago, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Ellen was also recently commissioned by Portland-based AnyWhen Ensemble to write and perform a prose text with the group.


A dynamic interpreter of contemporary music, Ellen regularly gives world premiere performances with Chicago Q Ensemble. She is a frequent guest artist with Fonema Consort, including on their recent album, Pasos en un Otra Calle, which earned a Best of 2014 nod from the Chicago Reader. Other chamber appearances include ensemble dal niente, Access Contemporary Music, and Singers on New Ground. As an improviser, she has performed on the Links Hall Collision Theory series and the City of Chicago’s Juicebox series.


Ellen holds an M.M. from DePaul University and a B.M. from the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, where she earned a second major in creative writing. Before coming to Chicago, she lived in East Africa, serving on the faculty of the Umoja Arts Centre in Arusha, Tanzania. She is now on the faculty of the Music Institute of Chicago.

Aqualung, with composer Jenna Lyle

Chicago composer Jenna Lyle’s piece, Aqualung (2013) for violin and soprano is a uniquely intimate and dramatic duo. It was written for me and was developed, in its initial stages, through a collaborative process of sonic and physical experimentation. Its text, by poet Virginia Konchan, reads in part:

I have not been in rehab
or prison or a kibbutz.
I am invisible to rain.
I want only something
strange and beautiful …
in a great room
occupied by you,
your bluish hair,
and your 10,000
foot bridal train.

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Saturn

“Saturn” is an original song from my solo EP, “The Wrong Idea.” I wrote the lyrics and music, and am performing on violin, ukulele, and all vocal tracks.

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NewMusicBox Articles

Articles September 11 2015 | By Ellen McSweeney
Build the Playground: Carolyn O’Brien on composing through depression

Composer Carolyn O'Brien calls on her ingenuity and strength to create through, and with, severe depression. Read her on the importance of formal structure, a sense of play, and a...

Articles September 10 2015 | By Ellen McSweeney
The Best and Worst Thing: A conversation with Keeril Makan and Daniel Felsenfeld

Two composers sit down and talk about depression, PTSD, and how social media can increase isolation.

Articles September 8 2015 | By Ellen McSweeney
Productivity, Pressure, and the Power of Listening: Marcos Balter

In the first installment of our first-person series on music & mental health, Marcos Balter opens up about anxiety, composition deadlines, and each person's singular path towards happiness.

See more of Ellen McSweeney's articles on NewMusicBox.