The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival was born in 1994 of a remarkable relationship between religious and cultural institutions. A secular event, the Festival is sponsored by three religious institutions (representing Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant faiths) and Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, a prominent musical ensemble that also provides administration for the Festival.
In two weeks each June, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival presents more than 20 concerts in southeastern Michigan. Many of these performances occur in the venues of the Festival's sponsors - St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic Church, Temple Beth El, and Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church. Additional concert locations have included the Detroit Institute of Arts, Kerrytown Concert House (Ann Arbor), Seligman Performing Arts Center, various locations in Grosse Pointe, the Capitol Theatre in Windsor (Ont.) and St. Thomas Aquinas Church in East Lansing. A special highlight was a performance at the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C.
The list of performers over the years reads like a long "who's who" in chamber music, including Jeremy Denk, Andrés and Roberto Díaz, Peter Oundjian, Joseph Silverstein, Miriam Fried, Gilbert Kalish, Philip Setzer, Jonathan Biss, David Finckel, St. Lawrence Quartet, Peter Wiley, Miró Quartet, Wu Han, Fred Sherry, Ida and Ani Kavafian, and a host of additional musicians.
The 2015 Festival marked the inaugural season of cellist Paul Watkins as the Festival’s Artistic Director. In this role, he follows the Festival's founding Artistic Director, James Tocco, who retired in 2014. The cellist of the Emerson String Quartet, Mr. Watkins is an accomplished instrumentalist, pianist, and conductor. In his role as Festival artistic director, he will continue the Festival’s tradition of engaging world-class musicians and creating imaginative projects.
The Festival's Shouse Institute provides major initiative to assist ensembles emerging to professional stature. Each year, the institute brings three to four groups annually to Detroit from throughout the world to perform and be coached by Festival artists. These young artists receive performance opportunities and complimentary lodging. Among the groups who have matriculated through this program are eighth blackbird, the Jupiter Quartet, the Parker Quartet, the Claremont Trio, the Pacifica Quartet, the Corigliano Quartet, the Ariel Quartet, the Enso Quartet, and the Jasper Quartet.
Dedication to artistic excellence has brought considerable attention to the Festival. Its concerts have been featured on NPR's Performance Today, and the Festival has released two compact discs on the Gasparo label, a disc on the Newport Classics label, and a disc on Albany Records. The national media has also paid the Festival favorable attention, with previous mention in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Travel and Leisure Magazine.
That same reputation has attracted considerable support in Detroit's business community. Recent Festival sponsors include JPMorgan Chase, Honigman, HP, Comerica, Keane, Compuware, the Edw. C. Levy Co., Plante Moran, and others.
The mission of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival is to be an ongoing program of international stature which brings together people of diversity to celebrate and foster the special intimate musical conversation that is central to great chamber music.