Faculty Chair Profile

Mary Sauer

NMS Piano Faculty
Principal Pianist, Chicago Symphony Orchestra


The principal keyboardist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1959, when she joined at the invitation of Fritz Reiner, as well as the keyboard coach, since 1962, of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the training orchestra of the CSO, Mary Sauer also has an outstanding reputation as a music educator.  For 33 years she was on the piano faculty of DePaul University, where she was the coordinator of the keyboard program for 22 of those years.  In addition to her many professional DePaul graduates, Ms. Sauer’s private studio, now located in the historic, landmark Fine Arts Building of Chicago, has also produced many concert pianists, conductors, music directors, and high school and university teachers world-wide.  Her unique teaching approach solves problems of tension which frees the individual’s inner musicality and artistry.  Ms. Sauer now serves as Piano Advisor and Faculty Chair for the New Music School. 

Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Ms.Sauer received both bachelor’s and master’s Performance Degrees under full scholarship from the Chicago Musical College; her teachers have included mentor Rudolph Ganz, William Kapell, Irene Schneidmann, and Mollie Margolies.

A frequent soloist with the Chicago Symphony on piano, celesta, organ, and harpsichord, she has played concerti under Sir Georg Solti, Jean Martinon, Carlo Maria Giulini, Claudio Abbado, Rafael Kubelik, Zubin Mehta, Charles Dutoit, Walter Hendl, Alan Gilbert and Margaret Hillis, among others.  She also is featured as soloist on many of the Orchestra’s recordings with Solti, Giulini, Leopold Stokowski, Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, Pierre Boulez and James Levine, as well as on discs with the Chamber Players of the Ravinia Festival.  For twenty-one years, she was accompanist for the Chicago Symphony Chorus.

Miss Sauer, now in her sixth decade with the CSO, not only is the first and only full-time, principal keyboardist since the inception of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1891, but she pioneered the development and establishment of the first position of its kind in any symphony orchestra worldwide. In her popular lecture, "The Many Faces of the Orchestral Keyboardist," she elaborates on the interesting scope of this position.  Miss Sauer also holds the distinction of being the second female to hold a principal chair in the CSO.

Much in demand as a soloist, recitalist, chamber musician, lecturer, and for master classes, Ms. Sauer frequently performs as guest artist with other orchestras.  In addition, she had a long association with the Peninsula Music Festival in Wisconsin, performing as soloist for eighteen consecutive seasons.

Having studied under the guidance of Alexander Schneider, her commitment to the chamber music repertoire is shown by her long involvement with the CSO chamber music series, collaborating with several ensembles, including the Chicago Symphony String Quartet, the Symphony Chamber Soloists of Chicago, the Alistaire Trio, and the Gilcrest Chamber Society.  Ms. Sauer is the Artistic Advisor and coach for the International Chamber Artists

Ms. Sauer received the Governor’s Award of the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for her contributions in education, performance, and recording, and for her many years as the Orchestra’s keyboardist.  She also has received the honor of being appointed to the International Roster of Steinway Artists.

Ms. Sauer lives in Highland Park, IL, with her husband, Richard Hannenberg, who specializes in health studies and nutrition and in consulting for small businesses.  They cherish much needed relaxation at their shore cottage in Door County, Wisconsin, whenever possible.  Their daughter, Kristin, Deaconess Intern Director at Concordia University, Chicago, and a Deaconess in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, lives in Forest Park, IL, with her husband, Robert Wassilak, an athletic trainer and sports therapist, and their children, Collin Robert and Annika Renee.