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 a member of the annual Gesher Chamber Music Festival.

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.

As violinist of the International Chamber Artists, she regularly performs chamber music masterworks, including Bartok Contrasts with CSO clarinetist John Bruce Yeh in 2014. She has also been heard on the DePaul Faculty Recital Series, the PianoForte Foundation Salon Series, WFMT, and on multiple series at the Chicago Cultural Center. Ellen served as principal second violin on Camerata Chicago‘s 2013 tour of Europe.

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 Devon. As a member of the cast of Holcombe Waller's groundbreaking show Wayfinders, she has toured to On The Boards Seattle, the MCA Chicago, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. She is currently working with Chicago Q Ensemble and director Deirdre Harrison to develop the group's third interdisciplinary show, combining theater with contemporary and classical chamber music.

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.


When I'm not working on the things mentioned above, I love to cook, do yoga, ride my bike, travel, and be outdoors. 

I started meditating regularly in October 2012, and in the years since, meditation has become a big part of my life. I regularly attend silent retreats at the Insight Meditation Society, and love to study, talk about, and practice Buddhist dharma.

In all the work I do, I hold a deep interest in transition and transformation. Between the ages of 26 and 29, I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer, got divorced, and came out as gay. Hearing about other people’s journeys is what has helped me the most, so I’ve chosen to be open about my experiences.

I live in Chicago with my partner, Susan, who is an orchestra librarian and a bassoonist. We have a small, charming cat (pictured above).