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CHAI Collaborative Ensemble (CCE) is a Chicago-based collective dedicated to sharing vocal and instrumental chamber music that represents a diverse array of compositional voices, fosters the development of new works, and brings music by underrepresented composers to light. Since the ensemble’s inception in 2015, CCE’s concerts have consistently brought underperformed contemporary and historical works into conversation with the beloved classics of the chamber music canon. 


The ensemble’s 2022-23 Season brought back prior programming, albeit to new audiences. They opened their season with a performance of song cycles by Lori Laitman, Scott Gendel, and Antonín Dvořák which were previously recorded in 2022. In January 2023 they presented Susan Kander’s A Garden’s Time Piece paired with works by Jennifer Higdon, Gustav Holst, and Eric Ewazen, as part of Community Presbyterian Church of Clarendon Hills’ Sunday Concert Series. 


Programs from the ensemble’s 2021-22 Season featured living composers in the Chicago area, as part of the Ear Taxi Festival Mainstage Series. Additionally, they collaborated with the Chicago Chamber Choir (CCC) as featured artists at the American Choral Directors’ Association (ACDA) Midwest Conference. They recorded song cycles by Lori Laitman, Scott Gendel, and Antonín Dvořák for virtual release. They returned to Fourth Presbyterian Church’s Friday Noonday Concert Series in April 2022, with a program that explores and honors the contributions Jewish composers and poets have made to the chamber music repertoire. The ensemble closed their season with a program anchored by the Chicago premiere of Griffin Candey’s Facsimile and paired with works by Aaron Jay Kernis and Marc Mellits.


The ensemble pivoted to an all-virtual format in their 2020-21 Season, and presented a program featuring all living, female composers in partnership with New Music Chicago as part of their Virtual New Music Chicago Presents series. That same year CCE launched their Paired series, which explores music written for two musicians. The first Paired series explored music for violin and piano and featured works by W.A. Mozart, Mélanie Bonis, Lili Boulanger, and William Walton. CCE also explored poetical pairings that season, first with a program featuring poetry written by literary giants Langston Hughes and William Shakespeare that was set to music by Valerie Coleman and Juliana Hall respectively. Both Hughes and Shakespeare were leaders in their lifetimes, Hughes during New York City’s Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century, and Shakespeare during the English Renaissance of the 15th-16th centuries. We closed our season with another poetical pairing: Gustav Holst’s Four Songs for Voice and Violin evocatively sets poems from A Medieval Anthology, which we mirrored with Susan Kander’s incandescent setting of Leslie Laskey’s poetry in A Garden’s Time Piece. 


Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, CCE’s 2019-20 Season centered on explorations of the past and the present. Programs included humankind’s relationship with planet Earth with works by Jenni Brandon, Juliana Hall, Ralph Vaughan-Williams, and Heitor Villa-Lobos. They also paired the works of Maurice Ravel with works by Scott Gendel, Jean Ahn, and Ned Rorem. The ensemble enjoyed a two-part residency with Chicago’s Lyriq Music School, first with presenting a program that explored fate and legacy with Beethoven’s Piano in D Major, Op. 70 No. 1 (“Ghost”), Mary Kouyoumdjian’s Moerae [The Fates] and Matthew Aucoin’s Three Whitman Songs. 


CCE’s community engagement efforts are anchored by their collaborations for social good. In previous seasons, the ensemble is proud to have joined forces with Latitude 49 and the Chicago Chamber Choir in performances that have benefited the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and The Night Ministry respectively. CCE has commissioned and premiered works written by composers Griffin Candey, Marc LeMay, Eric Malmquist, and Dale Trumbore. Most recently, CCE co-commissioned a chamber cello concerto by Candey with two other ensembles, and gave the work its Chicago premiere in May 2022.


CCE's 2023-24 Season includes a return to the New Music Chicago Presents series, in addition to collaborations with new and established partnerships. The ensemble is also preparing to record works previously commissioned, with a release date in 2025. The ensemble also looks forward to bringing back their Musical Collaborations for Good later in the year 2024.


In CCE’s name, CHAI is a play on Chicago’s nickname, “Chi-town.” With unwavering respect for the repertoire and good humor, the ensemble strives to create a space for camaraderie and courageous conversations. Visit our website at


Come, hear, and be inspired.

Photo Credit: Ryan Bennett

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