Founded in 1944, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit is one of the oldest and most prestigious chamber music presenters in the U.S. Through its Signature Chamber Series and its newer Oakland University and Midtown Series, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit brings the world’s best artists and ensembles to the metro Detroit stage in outstanding performances which inspire, move and delight thousands of audience members from across metro Detroit. Through its educational initiatives, each year the organization brings world-class chamber music to more than 10,000 young people in their schools and community organizations, primarily in underserved, inner-city communities.
The mission of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit is to present chamber musicians of international stature in acoustically outstanding venues, to enrich the cultural life of the City of Detroit and the metropolitan area by promoting the appreciation of chamber music, and to communicate a positive image of the region through prominence in the international chamber music community.
The Chamber Music Society of Detroit began in 1944 as an informal association of people brought together by radio musical educator Dr. Karl Haas for the purpose of listening to chamber music. Dr. Haas instituted lectures (the forerunners to his "Adventures in Good Music" internationally syndicated radio programs) at the Detroit Public Library to inform the public about upcoming concerts. During its first ten seasons, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit (known in its earliest years as the Chamber Music Festival) presented its concerts at the Detroit Institute of Arts Lecture Hall. Until the late 1960's, Chamber Music Society of Detroit ensembles often comprised the first chair musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, including such artists as Josef Gingold and Mischa Mischakoff, as well as Dr. Haas himself as pianist.
In 1969, the leadership of the Chamber Music Society passed from Karl Haas to Dr. Zalman “Tiny” Konikow; from this point forward, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit invited touring artists and ensembles from around the globe to perform on its series. During his 25-year tenure as president, Tiny Konikow showcased the talents of many up-and-coming musicians. Most notable are the Chamber Music Society of Detroit's early presentations of Emanuel Ax, Gidon Kremer, Yo-Yo Ma, Murray Perahia and the Tokyo String Quartet, as well as near-annual performances by the Guarnieri Quartet and the Beaux Arts Trio. Under Tiny Konikow's leadership, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit played a crucial role in the preservation and renovation of Detroit's Orchestra Hall by becoming, in 1978, its first permanent tenant since the Detroit Symphony had left the hall decades before.
In 1995, Lois R. Beznos became President of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit, after serving as Chair of the Board of Trustees since 1987. Under Lois Beznos' tenure as president, the Chamber Music Society more than tripled its subscriber base and its budget while developing community collaborations, adding professional staff and instituting comprehensive education programs. She established a collaboration with the Wayne State University Department of Music in 1995, introducing master classes by Chamber Music Society of Detroit series artists. Gradually increasing its scope over the years, the education program has evolved into an intensive Two-Week Ensemble Residency Program encompassing 15 or more school and community collaborations throughout metropolitan Detroit.
In 1996, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit, along with seven other chamber music presenters in the United States, including the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian Institution, was selected to present in perpetuity the winner of the Cleveland Quartet Award. Then, in 2001, Lois Beznos worked with the members of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and nineteen other presenters nationwide to establish a biennial award to recognize and provide performance opportunities for a gifted early-career piano trio. Between 2003 and 2012, four outstanding trios were awarded the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson International Trio Award and were granted concerts across 20 different venues across the United States.
In December 2010, Lois R. Beznos stepped down from the presidency of the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. After a national search, she was succeeded by Dr. Stephen Wogaman, a pianist and former student of Beaux Arts Trio pianist Menahem Pressler.
Under the direction of Dr. Stephen Wogaman, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit has reshaped its concert series and expanded its geographic radius. In 2012, a Detroit-based concert series was created which is now called the Midtown Series and is held at Wayne State University's Schaver Recital Hall. In 2013, a partnership was established between the CMSD and the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance at Oakland University creating the Oakland Series. These series, together with the Signature Chamber Series at Seligman Performing Arts Center in Beverly Hills, bring many of the world's great performers each season to venues across metro Detroit.
Recently, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit has continued to deepen its reach into the community with two new, collaborative educational initiatives: it formed a partnership with the AVANTI Summer MusicFest, an intensive week-long student workshop for high school musicians taught by musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra; and introduced Integrated Learning Packages, an innovative online learning environment that supports and enhances the impact of its live, in-school artist visits.