ELLEN McSWEENEY is a Chicago-based artist whose work traverses classical music, new music, songwriting, theater, and literature. Her latest piece is Boldly Launched Upon the Deep, a series of musical-dramatic episodes inspired by Moby Dick, co-written with trumpeter and composer Douglas Detrick. In 2015, she co-created MIMIC, a duo for tabletop violin and percussion, with composer and percussionist Sam Scranton. She has developed two evening-length music and theater pieces with Chicago Q Ensemble and Deirdre Harrison, including Three-Sided (2013) and No Exit (2014). She released her debut album, The Wrong Idea, in 2014.
In 2014, Ellen was honored as one of Musical America’s 30 Professionals of the Year for her risk-taking writing at NewMusicBox. She has developed a national reputation for tackling issues of gender, economics, and other challenges in artistic life.
As a performer, Ellen is drawn to collaborative projects that defy genre and allow her to draw upon multiple skills and disciplines. As a member of the cast of Holcombe Waller's groundbreaking show Wayfinders, she toured to On The Boards Seattle, the MCA Chicago, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). She is in demand throughout Chicago as a chamber musician and new music interpreter, and has performed works by Carolyn O'Brien, David Reminick, Maurico Pauly, Brian Baxter, and many others. She is the founding violinist of Chicago Q Ensemble and violinist of the International Chamber Artists. Other chamber appearances include Fonema Consort, ensemble dal niente, Access Contemporary Music, and Singers on New Ground. As an improviser, she has performed on Links Hall's Collision Theory, the City of Chicago’s Juicebox series, and Jessica Marasa's Jewel Tones series.
Recent classical highlights include a performance of Beethoven's op. 95 quartet on WFMT and performances of Bartok's Contrasts with CSO clarinetist John Bruce Yeh. She has been heard on WBEZ, WFMT, the DePaul Faculty Recital Series, the PianoForte Foundation Salon Series, and on multiple series at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Ellen holds an M.M. from DePaul University and a B.M. from the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University, where she won The Vanderbilt Review prize for her original fiction and the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry Writing. Before coming to Chicago, she lived in East Africa, serving on the faculty of the Umoja Arts Centre in Arusha, Tanzania.