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eighth blackbird checks into Lonely Motel on new CD

eighth blackbird’s world premiere performance of Slide was the centerpiece of the 2009 Ojai Music Festival, where it made an indelible impact. The genre-defying new music-theater piece wowed the Daily Sound as “part opera, part performance art,…and purely amazing,” while for the Los Angeles Times it “epitomized the kind of new musical world that eighth blackbird is ushering us into. …Powerful and impressive.” An eighth blackbird commission*, Slide exploits the unique blend of virtuosity, new-music chops, and youthful exuberance that marks the Chicago-based, Grammy Award-winning sextet as “the straight-A students of the contemporary scene” (Washington Post). Now, after extensively touring the work, the group makes it available to audiences at home, with Cedille Records’ September 27 release of Lonely Motel: music from “Slide.”
eighth blackbird has consistently drawn praise for its performance of Slide. “The blackbirds brought their irresistible élan,” reports the Los Angeles Times; the work was “brilliantly played by the blackbirds,” affirms Musical America; “eighth blackbird navigated Mr. Mackey’s score without blinking, while also playing roles,” elaborates the Santa Barbara News-Press. Moreover, Slide was, from the outset, an eighth blackbird project. The sextet was instrumental in bringing together the creative and artistic team behind it, participating in the creative process, and presiding over the whole production, including the recording. The six musicians worked in close collaboration with composer, electric guitarist, and Guggenheim fellow Steve Mackey and 2007 Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, actor, and singer Rinde Eckert, both of whom join the ensemble on the new album.
The resulting work is a dish for musical omnivores, part song cycle, part rock opera. While the ingredients are finely diced and there are no actual quotations, the songs are seasoned with homages to composers as diverse as Dowland, Mozart, Stravinsky, Piazzola, and the Beatles. This rich brew reflects the eclecticism both of eighth blackbird, whose members “are without stylistic allegiances: Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, experimentalism, New Romanticism, old Expressionism, rock, smooth jazz, not-so-smooth jazz – all come easily and naturally” (Los Angeles Times), and of Mackey, whose ability to incorporate and transform references to music from Monteverdi to Led Zeppelin is “lithe, subtle, and more than a little playful” (Newsday).
Sung by a lovelorn psychologist played by the “typically riveting” (Musical America) Eckert, the songs in Lonely Motel are about perception, self-delusion, and ultimately the isolation created by the attachments we develop to our own fuzzy, personal views of reality, “produc[ing] some of contemporary music’s finest combinations of music and theater” (Musical America). Small wonder, then, that when eighth blackbird toured the work to Chicago, Tribune critic John von Rhein described it as one of the “winter’s best,” exclaiming: “Leave it to this adventurous sextet to come up with the most provocative new-music event of the spring.”
Princeton professor Steve Mackey has represented the United States in the International Composers Rostrum in Paris and served as composer-in-residence at festivals including Tanglewood and Aspen. His compositions have been released on the Bridge, BMG/RCA Red Seal, Albany, New World, Nonesuch, BMG/Catalyst, CRI, Min/Max, and Newport Classic labels. Rinde Eckert, a 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama and the Obie Award-winning creator of And God Created Great Whales, is renowned as a writer, composer, director, and performer whose productions have toured extensively. As for eighth blackbird, one of the group’s previous Cedille Records releases, strange imaginary animals, scored two 2008 Grammy Awards, for “Best Chamber Music Performance” and “Producer of the Year, Classical,” as well as being nominated for “Best Classical Contemporary Composition.” As the Los Angeles Times observed, “With these blackbirds singing morning, noon, and in the dead of night, horizons could not but expand.”
A promotional video of Lonely Motel is available here, and portions of eighth blackbird’s multi-media Slide performance are available here. A list of the group’s upcoming season highlights follows below, and much additional information is available at its web site:
* Slide was produced with support from Stanford Lively Arts at Stanford University; the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at University of Maryland; Meet The Composer’s Commissioning Music/USA program; Charles C. Jett, Nancy R.G. Church M.D., and Herb and Belle Goldman; Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond; the 2009 Ojai Music Festival; Barlow Endowment for Music Composition at Brigham Young University; Corporate Funding by the Boeing Corporation; and the Music Department at Princeton University.
eighth blackbird’s 2011-12 season highlights:
October 15
Sounds of a New Century
SONiC Festival
Miller Theatre
New York, NY
December 8
Composition Competition final
Museum of Contemporary Art
Chicago, IL
January 13 & 14
On a Wire with Cincinnati Symphony
Cincinnati Music Hall
Cincinnati, OH
April 3
Pierrot lunaire (centenary concert)
Kennedy Center
Washington, DC
April 27 – May 5
On a Wire with Melbourne Symphony; “Coming Together”; “Waves”
Metropolis New Music Festival (curator and performer)
Melbourne, Australia
May 11 & 18
CONTEMPO: Tomorrow’s Music Today, Concerts 1 & 2
Fulton Recital Hall
Chicago, IL
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