“eighth blackbird’s performances are the picture of polish and precision, and they seem to be thoroughly engaged by music in a broad range of contemporary styles.” — New York Times
The Chicago-based new music sextet
has received national attention for combining bracing virtuosity, an alluring sense of irreverence, and joyful performances that sparkle with wit and physical energy. Widely lauded for its onstage style—often playing from memory with virtuosic and theatrical flair—eighth blackbird has attracted growing legions of fans, helping to make contemporary music accessible to wide audiences. In a long-overdue return to the Twin Cities, presented by the Walker Art Center, the ensemble performs The Only Moving Thing, an evening of minimalist masterworks featuring Steve Reich’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize–winning Double Sextet, performed with local new music champions Zeitgeist, and new works by Bang On A Can All-Stars founders Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and David Lang, in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater on Saturday, May 1, at 8 pm. The program features choreography by Susan Marshall.
Profiled in the New York Times and on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” eighth blackbird has also been featured on Bloomberg TV’s Muse, CBS News Sunday Morning, St. Paul Sunday, Weekend America, and The Next Big Thing, among others. The group is in residence at the University of Richmond in Virginia and the University of Chicago.
eighth blackbird’s program The Only Moving Thing, comprised of new commissions by Steve Reich, David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe. The group made its Zankel Hall debut and also performed for the first time at The Kitchen in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Houston Friends of Music, and Pittsburgh’s Chamber Music Society. It also inaugurated its own hometown series—now in its third season—at the prestigious Harris Theater at Millennium Park. The group toured Osvaldo Golijov’s song-cycle Ayre with soprano Dawn Upshaw and performed a fully memorized and staged cabaret-opera version of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire.
The sextet has appeared in Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, and South Korea; at nearly every major chamber music venue in North America, with performances at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the Metropolitan Museum, Kennedy Center, Library of Congress, Cleveland Museum of Art, and La Jolla Chamber Music Society; and has been concert soloist with the Utah Symphony and the American Composers Orchestra. A summer favorite, the group took the reigns as Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival’s 2009 season, and it has appeared several times at Cincinnati’s Music X, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Caramoor International Music Festival, and Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, also performing at Tanglewood, New York’s 20th annual Bang on a Can Marathon, and Bravo!-Vail.
Since its founding in 1996, eighth blackbird has actively commissioned and recorded new works from such eminent composers as Steve Reich, George Perle, Frederic Rzewski, and Joseph Schwantner, and has commissioned groundbreaking works from a younger generation (Jennifer Higdon, Stephen Hartke, Derek Bermel, David Schober, Daniel Kellogg, and Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérrez). The group was honored in 2007 with the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and a Meet The Composer Award. eighth blackbird received the first BMI/Boudleaux-Bryant Fund Commission, was the first contemporary music group to win the Grand Prize at the Concert Artists Guild International Competition, won the 2000 Naumburg Chamber Music Award and the 2004 NEA/CMA Special Commissioning Award, and has received grants from BMI, Meet The Composer, the Greenwall Foundation, and Chamber Music America, among many others.
The ensemble is enjoying acclaim for its four CDs released by Cedille Records. The most recent—strange imaginary animals, released in November 2006—won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance, and has garnered an almost unprecedented number of rave reviews, both in the U.S. press and internationally. Absolute Sound wrote of the album: “Like the band itself, all the music is fresh, vibrant, exciting, and slightly addictive. I don’t know what eighth blackbird has planned for the future, [but] whatever comes next, their track record strongly suggests that it will be great.” What comes next—and has already been deemed great in the form of a Pulitzer Prize—is Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, which eighth blackbird recorded in August 2009, for release by Nonesuch Records during the 2010–11 season. The group’s first CD, thirteen ways, featured works by Perle, Schober, Joan Tower, and Thomas Albert, and was selected as a Top Ten CD of 2003 by Billboard magazine. beginnings, featuring Kellogg’s Divinum Mysterium and George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae, was praised by the New York Times as having “all the sparkle, energy, and precision of the earlier outings. It is their superb musicality and interpretive vigor that bring these pieces to life.” Of fred, eighth blackbird’s disc comprising three Rzewski works, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “The music covers all kinds of moods and approaches, from dreamy surrealism to caffeinated unison melodies, and the members of eighth blackbird deliver it all with their trademark panache.” In 2006, the group debuted on the Naxos label in a performance of The Time Gallery, commissioned by eighth blackbird from 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec.
eighth blackbird is active in teaching young artists about contemporary music and, in addition to residencies, has taught master classes and conducted outreach activities around the country, at the Aspen Music School System (grades K-12), the La Jolla Chamber Music Series, the Candlelight Concert Series, Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa, and throughout the Greater Chicago area.
The members of eighth blackbird hold degrees in music performance from Oberlin Conservatory, among other institutions. The group derives its name from the Wallace Stevens poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. The eighth stanza reads:
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
Lauded for providing “a once-in-a-lifetime experience for adventurous concertgoers,” Zeitgeist is a new music chamber ensemble comprised of two percussion, piano, and woodwinds. One of the longest established new music groups in the country, Zeitgeist commissions and presents a wide variety of new music for audiences in the Twin Cities and on tour. Always eager to explore new artistic frontiers, Zeitgeist collaborates with poets, choreographers, directors, visual artists, and sound artists of all types to create imaginative new work that challenges the boundaries of traditional chamber music. The members of Zeitgeist are: Heather Barringer, percussion; Patti Cudd, percussion; Pat O’Keefe, woodwinds; Shannon Wettstein, piano.
Tickets to eighth blackbird’s The Only Moving Thing are $29 ($25 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600. The Balcony Bar (which is moved to the Hennepin Lobby for these performances) will be open at 7:30 pm and after the performance.