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eighth blackbird celebrates Steve Reich’s 75th in New York and London

Following its runaway success as performer and curator of New York City’s new and much talked-about “Tune-In” festival last month, eighth blackbird looks forward to two further high-profile festival engagements.  Both celebrate the 75th birthday of Steve Reich, America’s most important living composer: “Music of Steve Reich” at New York’s Carnegie Hall (April 30) and “Reverberations: The Influence of Steve Reich” at the Barbican Hall, where the ensemble makes its London debut with two performances (May 8).  A cornerstone of both festivals is eighth blackbird’s rendition of Double Sextet (20097), the work with which Reich won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize and eighth blackbird’s recent Nonesuch recording made numerous “Best of 2010” lists.  Commissioned by, written for, and premiered by the Grammy Award-winning ensemble, at both upcoming festivals Double Sextet will be performed all-live, with the help of musicians from the Bang on a Can All-Stars.  eighth blackbird’s other contribution to the London festival is a performance of the whimsical “Still Life” program, which the group then takes on tour to Bristol’s “Elektrostatic: Music and Film” festival (May 10) and Sussex’s “Nod to John Cage” exhibition (May 12).  The English trip boasts European premieres of two eighth blackbird commissions: Missy Mazzoli’s Still Life with Avalanche (2008) in London and Stephen Hartke’s Meanwhile (2007) – a 2008 Pulitzer Prize finalist – in Bristol.
eighth blackbird’s success curating the 2009 Ojai Music Festival helped establish the group as the first choice for new-music festivals seeking inspired curatorship.  On February 16-20, the sextet helped launch the first “Tune-In” festival at Manhattan’s cavernous Park Avenue Armory, not only as performer but as curator.  Festival highlights included the New York premieres of the sextet’s new, two-part “PowerFUL/LESS” program – featuring the group’s “riveting performance of John Cage’s early masterpiece Credo in Us” (Zachary Wolfe, New York Times) – and of John Luther Adams’s monumental Inuksuit.  Steve Smith, also in the Times, described this “major New York premiere” as “an engrossing aural environment conjured at the heart of a teeming metropolis.”  For the New Yorker’s Alex Ross, it was “one of the most rapturous experiences of his listening life,” and “John Luther Adams certainly deserved the ecstatic and prolonged ovation that greeted him.”  All told, Ross concluded, “eighth blackbird’s four-program series…discovered new possibilities in the space and ended on a note of quasi-spiritual transcendence.”  As the Wall Street Journal’s Barbara Jepson put it: “Now the ‘blackbirds’ are spreading their wings into the curatorial realm” – and to resounding critical applause.
The group’s next New York endeavor is on April 30 at Carnegie Hall’s “Music of Steve Reich” festival, which takes Double Sextet as its centerpiece.  Three years ago, eighth blackbird premiered the work in Carnegie’s Zankel Hall.  Now, as part of this 75th-birthday tribute to “our greatest living composer” (New York Times), the sextet takes the Pulitzer Prize-winning piece upstairs to the historic venue’s main stage, as part of a program featuring a who’s-who of contemporary music, from eighth blackbird to the Kronos Quartet.
As Gramophone magazine explains, Double Sextet “holds a special place in eighth blackbird’s voluminous and diverse repertoire.”  “It’s the closest we have to a rock ’n’ roll piece,” explains pianist Lisa Kaplan, while Reich himself admits, “Double Sextet is definitely one of my best pieces and I’m glad the Pulitzer committee felt the same way.”  The group’s recent recording of the work, made under the composer’s supervision and issued last fall on the Nonesuch label, was selected as one of the best releases of 2010 by numerous media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Time Out, the San Jose Mercury News, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NPR Music.  After a recent eighth blackbird 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.”
The sextet next airs its all-live account of Double Sextet in London at the “Reverberations: The Influence of Steve Reich” festival at the prestigious Barbican Hall, where eighth blackbird makes its long-awaited London debut on May 8.  The festival – a weekend-long marathon featuring the composer himself – also presents the group’s playful “Still Life” program, comprising the European premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s “Still Life with Avalanche” alongside works by Thomas Adès, David Lang, and Philippe Hurel that combine to highlight the kaleidoscopic diversity of contemporary music.  According to the Financial Times’s Martin Bernheimer, eighth blackbird’s recent recital of “Still Life” at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall “proved that musical modernism [could] thrive without dour pretension.”  In a five-star review, Bernheimer praised the group’s “impeccably balanced, usefully annotated program,” and concluded: “The blackbirds, celebrating their 15th season, performed…with bracing insight and nonchalant virtuosity.  Clearly, they know how to handle noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms.”
The sextet reprises the “Still Life” program for its two remaining English appearances.  As the headlining act of the first “Elektrostatic: Music and Film” festival at Bristol’s Colston Hall, eighth blackbird gives the closing concert (May 10).  For this, “Still Life” will also include a work by Philip Glass, as well as Double Sextet in its original incarnation, which has eighth blackbird playing against its own pre-taped performance.  Finally the group heads to Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, for “A Nod to John Cage” at the De La Warr Pavilion (May 12).  Here the program includes John Cage’s Aria for solo voice, performed by eighth blackbird’s flutist, Tim Munro.  Then, on returning to the States, eighth blackbird takes “Still Life” to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC (May 20), where it unveils the world premiere of a new violin and piano duo from Stephen Hartke.
Also figuring prominently in the group’s spring line-up is On a Wire (2010), the concerto written for eighth blackbird by Jennifer Higdon, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer; performances culminate with the sextet’s Cleveland Orchestra collaboration on May 27.  eighth blackbird’s recording of On a Wire – still hot off the press – has just helped launch ASO Media, the Atlanta Symphony’s brand new CD label.  Although the work marks Higdon’s first concerto for eighth blackbird, it is not the first piece she has written for the ensemble.  Two previous commissions are critic- and crowd-pleasers: strange imaginary animals, the album that won the group two Grammy Awards, features the premiere recording of her piece Zaka (2003), which was itself nominated for a Grammy, while Zango Bandango is a popular eighth blackbird encore.
The sextet’s spring academic residencies include those at the University of Richmond, VA, where eighth blackbird will be joined by two choirs in the world premiere of a new work by Chinese-American composer Chen Yi, and 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.
A list of eighth blackbird’s spring engagements follows below, and much additional information is available at the group’s web site:

eighth blackbird’s spring engagements:
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 27 – 30
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX
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, 8pm
“Music of Steve Reich”
Reich: Double Sextet (all live, with musicians from Bang on a Can All-Stars)
Carnegie Hall
May 8, 2pm
“Reverberations: The Influence of Steve Reich”
“Still Life”
Missy Mazzoli: Still Life With Avalanche (European premiere)
Thomas Adès: Catch
Philippe Hurel: …a mesure
David Lang: these broken wings 3
Barbican Hall
London, UK (London debut)
May 8, 6pm
“Reverberations: The Influence of Steve Reich”
Reich: Double Sextet (all live, with musicians from Bang on a Can All-Stars)
Barbican Hall
London, UK
May 10
“Elektrostatic: Music and Film”
“Still Life”
Missy Mazzoli: Still Life with Avalanche
Thomas Adès: Catch
Stephen Hartke: Meanwhile (European premiere)
David Lang: these broken wings 3
Steve Reich: Double Sextet
Colston Hall
Bristol, UK
May 12
“A Nod to John Cage”
Missy Mazzoli: Still Life with Avalanche
Philippe Hurel: …a mesure
David Lang: these broken wings 3
Philip Glass: Music in Similar Motion
Thomas Adès: Catch
Stephen Hartke: Meanwhile
De La Warr Pavilion
Bexhill, East Sussex, UK
May 18
Contempo: “Tomorrow’s Music Today”
University of Chicago
Chicago, IL
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

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