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eighth blackbird flies high with Curtis recital and Slide tour

To crown its residency at Philadelphia’s distinguished Curtis Institute, eighth blackbird joins forces with the school’s own contemporary music ensemble, Curtis 20/21, for a recital on February 24.  Three of the works on the program, including its centerpiece – Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet – were written especially for eighth blackbird.  Also created for the Grammy Award-winning sextet is Rinde Eckert and Steve Mackey’s new music-theater piece, Slide, which the group premiered last summer and to which it now devotes a U.S. tour, with performances in Richmond, VA (March 3), Chicago’s Harris Theater (March 24), and College Park, MD (April 9-10).  

eighth blackbird performs joint recital with Curtis Institute’s own ensemble

Academic residencies have become an important part of eighth blackbird’s teaching and performing life, and the ensemble’s forthcoming residence at Philadelphia’s world-renowned Curtis Institute (Feb 22-24) is one of many such engagements this season.  As a fitting end to its Curtis collaboration, the group is set to team up with Curtis 20/21, the school’s ensemble dedicated to music of the 20th and 21st centuries, for a joint recital in the conservatory’s Field Concert Hall (Wed, Feb 24 at 8pm).

The program showcases Steve Reich’s Double Sextet (2007), which eighth blackbird commissioned and premiered, and recently finished recording for Nonesuch under the composer’s supervision.  When it was announced that Double Sextet had won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, Reich admitted: “I’m very glad that this particular piece got [the award], because I do think it’s one of the better pieces I’ve done in the past few years.”  He was not alone; Tim Munro, eighth blackbird’s flutist, explained: “The piece is a skillful, imaginative, and engaging distillation of Reich’s work over the past 40 years, featuring funky riffs, soulful lyricism, and playful banter.  The adrenalin rush we get performing this piece is very intense, and it leaves us wired for the whole night.  It’s certainly as close as I’ll ever get to being a rock star.”  He added, “We’re not surprised by the award, given the overwhelmingly positive reception with which the piece has been received around the world.”  One such enthusiastic response came from Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed, who described the piece as a “kind of explosion of fractured rhythms that never ceases to amaze the ear,” and pronounced eighth blackbird’s interpretation “a really good, rocking, rollicking performance.”

Scored for two identical sextets, each comprising flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone, and piano, Double Sextet can either be played by six musicians against a recording of themselves, or by an ensemble of twelve.  On February 24, eighth blackbird will join forces with Curtis 20/21 to perform the work completely live.

Also on the Curtis program are two staples of eighth blackbird’s performing repertoire, both originally commissioned and premiered by the group: George Perle’s Critical Moments 2 (2001), as featured on the sextet’s thirteen ways album, and considered “absorbing and beautiful…, the work of a master,” by the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini, and Stephen Hartke’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Meanwhile (2007), in which prepared piano, wood blocks, a water gong, and Javanese gamelan help to evoke a bizarre imaginary Asian court theater.  The program also includes Rain Tree (1981), one of a number of Toru Takemitsu’s works that draw upon images of water – originally written for piano, eighth blackbird premiered the sextet arrangement at the opening concert of the Ojai Music Festival last summer – and Zango Bandango, a playful encore from Grammy Award-winning Curtis faculty member Jennifer Higdon.

eighth blackbird takes Slide on three-stop U.S. tour

Anticipating the group’s Chicago premiere of Slide (2009), Tribune critic John von Rhein described the work 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.”  eighth blackbird describes the piece as:

“A concert-length music/theater work conceived, written, and performed by eighth blackbird, Steve Mackey (composer/guitarist), and Rinde Eckert (actor/singer).  Eckert, a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, plays an enigmatic psychologist struggling to describe an experiment that examines subjects’ reactions to slides projected both in- and out-of-focus.  The results reveal that our decisions are based on habits or conventions that make it difficult for us to see clearly.  Slide uses the experiment as a metaphor for today’s world, where persuasive images are employed to sell a commercial or political product.  The work explores the seduction and manipulation of the American psyche.  The show’s goal is an unmediated exploration and expression of sound, text, movement, and image.  eighth blackbird, Steven Mackey, and the projected images play important onstage roles.”

Once again the members of eighth blackbird have won new audiences with a work that exploits all their talents – for music, choreography, drama, and memorization.  The group brings the multi-media, multi-art form production to Chicago’s Harris Theater on March 24, as part of its Slide mini-tour.  Opening at Virginia’s Modlin Center for the Arts, where eighth blackbird will perform the work on March 3 during its fifth residency at the University of Richmond (March 1-5), the tour’s final stop will be at the University of Maryland, with performances of Slide on April 9 and 10 in College Park’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

A list of eighth blackbird’s upcoming engagements follows below, and much additional information is available at the group’s web site:

eighth blackbird’s upcoming engagements:

Feb 21
Winchester, VA
Shenandoah University

Feb 22- 24
Philadelphia, PA
Curtis Institute of Music, Residency

Feb 24
Philadelphia, PA
Takemitsu: Rain Tree; Perle: Critical Moments 2; Hartke: Meanwhile
Higdon: Zango Bandango; Reich: Double Sextet
eighth blackbird and 20/21
Curtis Institute of Music, Field Concert Hall
Free; no tickets required

March 1-5
Richmond, VA
University of Richmond, Residency 5
Modlin Center for the Arts

March 3
Richmond, VA
Modlin Center for the Arts

March 24
Chicago, IL
Harris Theater

April 5-10
College Park, MD
University of MD, Residency

April 9 & 10
College Park, MD
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Gildenhorn Recital Hall

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