ELLEN McSWEENEY is a Chicago-based artist whose work traverses classical music, new music, songwriting, theater, and literature. In 2014, she was honored as one of Musical America’s 30 Professionals of the Year for her risk-taking writing at NewMusicBox. She released her debut album, The Wrong Idea, in 2014. Current works in progress include a series of personal essays, a song cycle, and a new work for AnyWhen Ensemble with their bandleader, Douglas Detrick. 

In recent years, Ellen has devoted significant time to developing staged performance work. As a member of the cast of Holcombe Waller's groundbreaking show Wayfindersshe toured to On The Boards Seattle, the MCA Chicago, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Her string trio, Chicago Q Ensemble, has developed two interdisciplinary shows with director Deirdre Harrison, combining theater with contemporary and classical chamber music.

Ellen is in demand throughout Chicago as a chamber musician and new music interpreter. She is the founding violinist of Chicago Q Ensemble, principal violinist of the International Chamber Artists, and a member of the annual Gesher Chamber Music Festival. Ellen has been a frequent guest artist with Fonema Consort, including 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 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 the DePaul Faculty Recital Series, the PianoForte Foundation Salon Series, WFMT, and on multiple series at the Chicago Cultural Center. Ellen also served as principal second violin on Camerata Chicago‘s 2013 tour of Europe.

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. 


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

I started meditating regularly in October 2012, and in the years since, meditation has become a big part of my life. I have attended 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, and our cat Namine (pictured above).