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eighth blackbird announces 2010-11 season

To headline its full and varied 2010-11 season, eighth blackbird unveils a new, politically-driven, two-part program – “PowerFUL/less” – addressing Stravinsky’s provocative statement questioning the meaning and power of art.  The new program juxtaposes Corigliano and Rzewski – “Powerful” – with works by Bach and Reich – “Powerless” – in performances at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the University of Richmond in Virginia, and Park Avenue Armory’s “Tune-In” festival** in NYC, which the group curates in February.  Another staple of the coming season is Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon’s new concerto On a Wire; having given its world premiere, the sextet undertakes the work with orchestras including Cleveland and the Toronto Symphony.  This season also sees the ensemble touring its whimsical “Still Life” program extensively, with dates at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, the Library of Congress, and England’s Elektrostatic festival, besides making multiple appearances with “Slide” and “The Only Moving Thing.”  The latter program features Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet (commissioned by and written for eighth blackbird), which the group performs at the “Music of Steve Reich” festival, first at Carnegie Hall and then at the Barbican Hall where the ensemble makes its London debut; the Grammy-winning sextet recently recorded the work under the composer’s supervision for a new CD from Nonesuch, which is released on September 14.  In addition to three Chicago Contempo concerts, eighth blackbird once again demonstrates its unflagging commitment to new music with world premieres of works by Nico Muhly, Chen Yi, Stephen Hartke, Brett Dean, and D. J. Sparr; the U.S. premiere of a work by John Corigliano that was co-commissioned by eighth blackbird; numerous academic residencies; and the launch of its first Finale® National Composition Contest.

eighth blackbird launches new “PowerFUL/less” program

“Music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all.”  eighth blackbird puts Stravinsky’s notoriously incendiary claim to the test, with “PowerFUL/less”, two contrasting yet equally compelling programs that present the cases for and against his thesis.

Inspired by novelist Chinua Achebe’s angry rebuttal of Stravinsky – “Art for art’s sake is just another piece of deodorized dogshit” – the “Powerful” program presents music meant to communicate passionate political beliefs.  For his intense musical grenade Coming Together (1972), Frederic Rzewski chose a prescient text by Sam Melville, a political prisoner who was shortly to die in the violent Attica prison riot, while John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man (2000/2009) is an affecting and controversial setting of war-soaked song texts by Bob Dylan.  The U.S. premiere of the sextet arrangement of Mr. Tambourine Man will feature soprano Katie Calcamuggio, Syracuse Opera’s “Artist of the Year” 2010, when eighth blackbird debuts “Powerful” at Virginia’s University of Richmond on September 15. The group repeats the program on January 22 for the first of two winter engagements at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (representing the fourth consecutive season that eighth blackbird will have presented a special series in its home town); the concert will be preceded on January 17 by two hours of live music and discussion on Chicago’s classical station, WFMT.  The sextet also presents a collaborative version of the “Powerful” program at Park Avenue Armory’s “Tune-In” festival** in New York City on February 16-20 (see below).

By contrast, “Powerless” celebrates the rich and multifaceted world of “absolute” music that seeks no meaning beyond its own internal structures: works that, in composer Luciano Berio’s words, “can’t stop the wars, can’t make the old younger or lower the price of bread, make tulips grow in my garden, or alter the flow of the ocean currents.”  eighth blackbird debuts its collaborative version of the program in a second concert at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago on February 5, joining forces with fellow new-music specialists in a 75th birthday tribute to Steve Reich.  This features a presentation of his Music for 18 Musicians, paired with an ensemble arrangement of Bach’s timeless Chaconne from the Partita in D minor.  These works also form the backbone of the “Powerless” program as presented at New York City’s “Tune-In” festival** on February 16-20 (see below), whereas at the University of Richmond, VA on March 14, the program comprises instead a diverse selection, ranging from minimalist classics by Reich and Philip Glass to works by György Ligeti and Philippe Hurel.

Sextet curates and performs at first “Tune-In” festival

After the success of eighth blackbird’s collective curatorship of the 2009 Ojai Music Festival, the sextet has been selected to curate Park Avenue Armory’s “Tune-In” contemporary music festival in New York City.  Comprising five days of new music from February 16-20, “Tune-In” brings together an array of leading new-music groups, including San Diego-based percussion lab red fish blue fish; New York City’s Argento Chamber Ensemble; “potent, composer-led” (New Yorker) Newspeak; and Sympho, which, with conductor Paul Haas, “refits the classical experience for a new century” (New York Times).  The Armory’s soaring drill hall’s cathedral-like acoustics and informal character will create an immersive environment enabling performers and audiences to experience the music on an equal footing.

Central to the festival’s programming is the New York (and indoor) premiere of John Luther Adams’s Inuksuit (2009), featuring more than 70 percussionists.  Other highlights include eighth blackbird and friends playing special versions of the two “PowerFUL/less” programs (see above) in two separate concerts.  For “Tune In”, “Powerful” will feature Coming Together alongside works by John Cage, Louis Andriessen, and Newspeak Ensemble, while “Powerless” will pair Music for 18 Musicians and Bach’s Chaconne with Kurt Schwitters’s UrSonate (1922-32) for solo speaker and in vain (2000), scored for 24 musicians, by Georg Friedrich Haas.


eighth blackbird spotlights On a Wire, Jennifer Higdon’s new concerto

One of the most prolific and frequently performed American composers alive today, Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) is having a momentous year; in February her Percussion Concerto was awarded the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition and two months later she won a Pulitzer Price for her Violin Concerto; as the New York Times observed, “Higdon’s vivid, attractive works have made her a hot commodity.”  Last season in Atlanta, eighth blackbird gave Higdon’s new concerto, On a Wire, its world premiere, when it impressed the San Francisco Chronicle as an “exuberantly beautiful and inventive group concerto which left the audience exhilarated.”  As the Mercury News witnessed, the group’s performance was “dispatched with dazzling flair,” making it “hard to imagine another sextet playing it with such energy and precision.”  Now the ensemble makes On a Wire a staple of the coming season, performing the piece with orchestras including the Toronto Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra, in Burlington, VT (Dec 4), Akron, OH (Jan 14), Toronto, ON (March 10), Allendale, MI (Apr 13), Muskegon, MI (Apr 15-16), and Cleveland, OH (May 29).

Although On a Wire marks the composer’s first commission for eighth blackbird, it is not the first time they have collaborated.  strange imaginary animals, the album that won the sextet two Grammy Awards, features the premiere recording of Higdon’s Zaka (2003), which was nominated for a third.  The group’s premiere performance of On a Wire with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was also recorded for future CD release.

Ensemble takes “Still Life” to Zankel Hall, Library of Congress, England’s Elektrostatic festival, and more

eighth blackbird continues touring several current programs, with two dates each for “Slide” (Stanford, CA on March 5 and Austin, TX on March 23) and “The Only Moving Thing” (Nacogdoches, TX on Oct 26 and Kingsville, TX on Oct 28).  Songs from Slide will also feature on one of the group’s forthcoming recordings, which is due for spring release on the Cedille label.

It is the “Still Life” program, however, that takes center stage this season, with extensive tour dates including recitals at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall (Jan 31), Washington’s Library of Congress (May 26), and England’s Elektrostatic: Music and Film festival (May 10).  This diverse and whimsical program includes Missy Mazzoli’s Still Life with Avalanche (2008) and Stephen Hartke’s Pulitzer Prize finalist, Meanwhile (2007).  Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion (1969), Philippe Hurel’s ...à mesure (1996), Pierre Boulez’s otherworldly Dérive 1 (1984), and Higdon’s Zaka (2003) are also programmed at most venues.

The acoustic version scheduled for the group’s return to Zankel Hall substitutes Catch (1991) by Thomas Adés for Zaka, whereas the amplified version presented at Indianapolis on March 26 replaces both Zaka and Dérive 1 with Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet (2007), another eighth blackbird commission.  Double Sextet is also on the agenda at the Elektrostatic: Music and Film festival at Bristol’s Colston Hall in the UK, where Still Life with Avalanche and Meanwhile are also on the program.  For more on Double Sextet, and for the full “Still Life” touring schedule, see below.

Double Sextet on new CD, at Carnegie Hall, at London’s Barbican, and in Poland

A mainstay of “The Only Moving Thing”, as well as an occasional constituent of “Still Life” and the new “Powerless”, Reich’s Double Sextet (2007) features prominently in the group’s programming during the composer’s 75th birthday year; after a recent performance, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns observed, “Double Sextet is…among the finest pieces of our time. … Music should induce ecstasy.  Both the piece and the performing musicians succeeded on that front – to say the least.”  Described by the composer as “one of [his] best works,” Double Sextet was commissioned by and written for the ensemble, who gave its world premiere in 2008, one year before it won Reich the Pulitzer Prize.  Now eighth blackbird’s much-anticipated recording of Double Sextet is being released on CD by Nonesuch on September 14, coupled with another recent Reich composition, 2×5.  The new disc marks eighth blackbird’s first recording since strange imaginary animals, whose two Grammys include the award for Best Chamber Music Performance (2008).

eighth blackbird’s Double Sextet rendition will also feature in a festival showcasing the “Music of Steve Reich” at Carnegie Hall on April 30, alongside performances by fellow new-music trailblazers including the Kronos Quartet and Bang on a Can.  eighth blackbird then travels with the festival across the Atlantic to the Barbican Hall, where the ensemble makes its long-awaited London debut on May 7-8. In another European debut, eighth blackbird plays for the first time in Poland, on May 14, at the Musica Electronica Nova festival in Wroclaw, where the program will also include Double Sextet.

eighth blackbird’s residencies include Contempo concerts and five world premieres

The sextet’s numerous upcoming residencies include a return to the University of Chicago’s Contempo concert series, where the group celebrates its 10th anniversary as ensemble-in-residence.  eighth blackbird’s ongoing relationship with Virginia’s University of Richmond continues apace, with six residencies including the “PowerFUL/less” performances described above; November’s Third Practice Festival, at which eighth blackbird will premiere a new electro-acoustic work by D. J. Sparr; a festival of Schoenberg’s chamber music in January; and, in April, the world premiere of a new work by Chinese-American composer Chen Yi, for which the sextet will be joined by two choirs.  Among eighth blackbird’s many further academic residencies is a stint at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University, where the group gives the world premiere performance of a new piece by New York sensation Nico Muhly, whose forthcoming opera will soon debut at the English National Opera.  In two other world premieres, the group unveils a new piece by Stephen Hartke at the Library of Congress in May, and a new sextet by Australian composer Brett Dean at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival the following month. The ensemble returns to Blonay, Switzerland for its third summer residency at the Music 11 Festival.  Further details of the sextet’s residencies are provided below.

eighth blackbird launches Finale® National Composition Contest: deadline for entries is September 15

In partnership with the American Composers Forum, eighth blackbird launches its Finale® National Composition Contest: a competition designed to encourage creativity by composers throughout the U.S. and to recognize and reward their accomplishments.  Three composers will be chosen as finalists, who will receive a cash prize and the chance to write a piece for eighth blackbird, to be workshopped and performed in the ensemble’s Chicago studio.  One of the three will receive the final prize, comprising an additional cash award and a future public performance by eighth blackbird.  Deadline for entries is September 15, and the names of the three finalists will be announced by December 31.

A list of eighth blackbird’s 2010-11 season key engagements follows below, and much additional information is available at the group’s web site:


eighth blackbird’s 2010-11 season engagements:
Sep 14
Double Sextet released on Nonesuch CD
Residency at U of Richmond
Richmond VA
“Powerful”: U of Richmond
Richmond, VA
Deadline for entries to Finale® National Composition Contest
Oct 4–8
Residency at U of Richmond
Richmond, VA
Oct 15
“Still Life”
Boise Chamber Music
Boise, ID
Oct 16-24
Residency at Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX
Oct 26
“The Only Moving Thing”
Stephen F. Austin State U
Nacogdoches, TX
Oct 28
“The Only Moving Thing”
Texas A&M University
Kingsville, TX
Oct 28-29
Residency at Texas A&M University
Kingsville, TX
Nov 1-6
Residency at U of Richmond
(incl. Third Practice Festival)
Richmond, VA
Dec 4
On a Wire  with Vermont Symphony Orchestra
Flynn Center
Burlington, VT
Dec 5
“Still Life”
Flynn Center
Burlington, VT
Jan 9
Contempo concert
U of Chicago
Chicago, IL
Jan 13-16
Residency at Akron Symphony Orchestra
Akron, OH
Jan 15
On a Wire with Akron Symphony Orchestra
Akron, OH
Jan 17
“Live from WFMT” performance/radio broadcast
Chicago, IL
Jan 22
Museum of Contemporary Art
Chicago, IL
Jan 24-28
Residency at U of Richmond
Richmond, VA
Jan 26
“Chamber Music of Arnold Schoenberg”
U of Richmond
Richmond, VA
Jan 31
“Still Life” (acoustic)
Zankel Hall
Feb 5
Museum of Contemporary Art
Chicago, IL
Feb 16-20
“Tune-In” festival: “PowerFUL/less”
Park Avenue Armory
Feb 22
“Still Life”
Eastman School of Music
Rochester, NY
March 1
Contempo Double Bill
Harris Theater
Chicago, IL
March 3
“Still Life”
Cal State, Fullerton
Fullerton, CA
March 5
Stanford University
Stanford, CA
March 10
On a Wire with Toronto Symphony Orchestra / Oundjian
Toronto, Canada
March 14-18
Residency at U of Richmond
Richmond, VA
March 14
U of Richmond
Richmond, VA
March 22-23
Residency at University of Texas
Austin, TX
March 23
University of Texas
Austin, TX
March 26
“Still Life” (amp)
Ensemble Music Soc / IN Mus of Art
Indianapolis, IN
March 31 – April 1
Residency at Kennesaw State U
Kennesaw, GA
April 2
World premiere of Nico Muhly work with chorus
Kennesaw State U
Kennesaw, GA
April 4-8
Residency at U of Richmond
Richmond, VA
April 8
World premiere of Chen Yi work with chorus
U of Richmond
Richmond, VA
April 11-13
Residency at Grand Valley State U
Allendale, MI
April 13, afternoon
Arts at Noon, Grand Valley State U
Allendale, MI
April 13, evening
“In C” with GVSU new music ensemble
Grand Valley State U
Grand Rapids, MI
April 15, 16
On a Wire with West Michigan Symphony
Muskegon, MI
April 30
“Music of Steve Reich”
Carnegie Hall
May 7-8
“Music of Steve Reich”
Barbican Hall
London, UK (London debut)
May 10
“Elektrostatic: Music and Film”
“Still Life”
Colston Hall
Bristol, UK
May 14
Musica Electronica Nova
Program includes Reich Double Sextet 
Wroclaw, Poland (Poland debut)
May 20
“Still Life” with world premiere of Stephen Hartke violin/piano duo
Library of Congress
Washington DC
May 22
Contempo: “Tomorrow’s Music Today”
U of Chicago
Chicago, IL
May 27
On a Wire
with Cleveland Orchestra
Cleveland, OH
May 29
“Still Life”
Severance Hall
Cleveland, OH
June 4
Ojai Music Festival special event
Ojai, CA
June 14 – 18
World premiere of Brett Dean piece
Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival
Southfield, MI
June 20 – July 2
Music 11 Festival
Blonay, Switzerland

© 21C Media Group, September 2010

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