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eighth blackbird rocks Ojai with Slide and Double Sextet

The fearless, Chicago-based,
Grammy-winning sextet eighth blackbird brought its youthful exuberance, new-music pedigree, and singular chops
to California’s annual, cutting-edge Ojai Music Festival.  It was only the second time an ensemble
had curated the famous festival, and, according to Josef Woodard in the Santa
Barbara Independent
, this year’s
Ojai was “beautifully and creatively put together by the festival’s ‘music
director,’ cherished new music ensemble eighth blackbird.”  Woodard continued:

“The four-day extravaganza managed
to be a compact history of what’s recent and where it came from.  The festival began tranquilly on
Thursday night, with the program ‘Music for a Summer Evening,’ featuring George
’s piece of
the same name.  It all ended in a
happy über-tutti heap at the end of Sunday evening’s feast-like five-hour
marathon, with Louis Andriessen’s raucously brain-rattling Workers Union, the stage eventually filled with
every musician brought into town for the weekend.”

blackbird brought in many of its intrepid and talented friends for the
festival, including pianist Jeremy Denk, composer/guitarist Steven Mackey, the ensembles Tin Hat and QNG
Recorder Collective
, sound sculptor Trimpin, dancers Elyssa Dole and Carla Kihlstedt, singer Lucy
, and percussionists Greg Beyer, Nathan Davis,and Doug Perkins,
to name but a few.

were many, but included the world premiere of Steven Mackey and Rinde Eckert’s Slide, of which the Ventura County Star wrote:

“Ojai Music Festival’s Slide has both wit and complexity… . The
symbiosis between genres and styles that pervades this year’s densely
programmed festival for a multitasking generation is the essence of Slide. … A back story explained in
detail in the program was almost required reading for anyone attempting to
grasp the total concept, but even without that, it was possible for those with
open eyes and ears to relish the wit and complexity of the work.”

Another highlight of the
festival was a performance of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet, which Steve Reich composed expressly for eighth
blackbird last year.  As the title
suggests, the work requires twelve players and was given its world premiere by
eighth blackbird, playing against a recording of itself on tape.  For this Ojai performance, eighth
blackbird invited six friends for a performance that evoked this response from
new music web site Sequenza21: “Clearly, Double Sextet is something that must be added to our
libraries.”  We won’t have to wait
much longer – in August, eighth blackbird heads into the studio to record Double
for a forthcoming Nonesuch

The Los Angeles Times provided more background on the group, along with a
colorful and accurate description of eighth blackbird’s unique modus

in 1996 by students at Oberlin College, the blackbirds are examples of a new
breed of super-musicians.  They
perform the bulk of their new music from memory.  They have no need of a conductor, no matter how complex the
rhythms or balances.  They are, as
Juilliard Dean Ara Guzelimian said at the festival symposium on Friday, ‘stage
animals,’ often in motion, enacting their scores as they play them.  They are without stylistic

eighth blackbird did not
have much chance to recuperate after these extraordinary few days, heading straight
for the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival in Michigan this past weekend before
continuing to the Music09 Festival in Blonay, Switzerland.

 © June 2009, 21C Media Group

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