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eighth blackbird presents “PowerFUL/LESS” at MCA, Chicago

Long synonymous with creative programming, eighth blackbird headlines its 2010-11 season with the launch of “PowerFUL/LESS”: two contrasting yet equally compelling programs that present the cases for and against Stravinsky’s incendiary claim that “music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all.”  The sextet’s hometown audiences in Chicago will be the first to have the chance to hear both programs, which juxtapose the music of Corigliano, Rzewski, and John Luther Adams in “PowerFUL” (Jan 22) with works by Bach and Reich in “PowerLESS” (Feb 5), at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA).  This being the fourth consecutive season that eighth blackbird presents a special series in its hometown, the concerts will be preceded by a live preview performance and discussion on Chicago’s classical station, WFMT, on January 17.
The “PowerFUL” program on January 22 is inspired by a quote by the novelist Chinua Achebe – “Art for art’s sake is just another piece of deodorized dogshit” – written as a scathing rebuttal to Stravinsky’s notorious assertion. It confronts listeners with passionate musical responses to political issues – the prison system, war, and the environment – by three very different American composers.  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 (2000/09) is an affecting and controversial setting of war-soaked song lyrics by Bob Dylan.  As when eighth blackbird recently gave the U.S. premiere of the latter’s sextet arrangement in Virginia, Mr. Tambourine Man will feature soprano Katie Calcamuggio, Syracuse Opera’s “Artist of the Year” 2010.  A more contemplative piece – The Light Within (2007) by John Luther Adams, a staunch naturalist and recent winner of the 2010 Nemmers Prize – rounds out the program.
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 [one’s] garden, or alter the flow of the ocean currents.”  eighth blackbird debuts its collaborative version of the program in a second concert at the MCA on February 5, when it is joined by fellow new-music specialists Third Coast Percussion, Meehan/Perkins Duo, pianists Amy Briggs and Adam Marks, clarinetist Sunshine Simmons, and singers Nina Heebink, Susan Nelson, Kirsten Hedegaard and Amy Conn.  The program features one of Reich’s most influential works, his Music for 18 Musicians (1974-76), paired with Bach’s timeless Chaconne from the Partita in D minor. Originally composed for solo violin, the Chaconne has been arranged by eighth blackbird’s violinist/violist Matt Albert for the same piano and percussion-dominated ensemble as Reich’s masterpiece.
Reviewing the Grammy Award-winning sextet’s recent CD release of Reich’s Double Sextet, an eighth blackbird commission and winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, Gramophone magazine observed: “eighth blackbird’s muscular and thoughtful playing is just what’s needed here,” and advised listeners: “Just enjoy.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer agreed, endorsing the album with an “A” grade review and confessing, “It’s really rocking!”
The group’s next disc, which features Steven Mackey’s song cycle Slide with vocalist Rinde Eckert and the composer on electric guitar, is due for release in spring 2011 on the Chicago-based Cedille label.  An eighth blackbird commission, Slide was premiered by the ensemble at the 2009 Ojai Music Festival, and has been toured extensively since.
Further details of eighth blackbird’s upcoming Chicago appearances follow below, and much additional information is available at the group’s web site:  A YouTube video about eighth blackbird’s PowerFUL/LESS program in Chicago can be seen here.

eighth blackbird in Chicago, winter 2011:
Monday, January 17
Chicago, IL
“Live from WFMT” performance/radio broadcast
Saturday, January 22
Chicago, IL
with Katie Calcamuggio, soprano
Frederic Rzewski: Coming Together (1972)
John Corigliano: Mr. Tambourine Man (2000/09)
John Luther Adams: The Light Within (2007)
Museum of Contemporary Art
Saturday, February 5
Chicago, IL
with guests
J. S. Bach (arr. Matt Albert): “Chaconne” from the Partita in D minor for solo violin (1717-23)
Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (1974-76)
Museum of Contemporary Art

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