Press Room

eighth blackbird takes Manhattan

eighth blackbird’s last New York appearance in May moved New York Times critic Steve Smith to “env[y] a composer’s opportunity to challenge these versatile, expressive performers.”  It is an opportunity that many of today’s most important composers are taking.  On January 31, the Grammy Award-winning sextet returns to New York with further examples of the wealth of new music it has inspired, commissioned, and premiered, including Stephen Hartke’s Pulitzer Prize finalist Meanwhile, when it takes the playful and popular “Still Life” program to Carnegie’s Zankel Hall.  Then, still in the city on February 16-20, eighth blackbird helps launch the new  “Tune-In” festival at the Park Avenue Armory, not only as performers but also – following its success as the collective music director of the 2009 Ojai Music Festival – as Tune-In’s curator.  Festival highlights include the New York premieres of the group’s new, two-part “PowerFUL/LESS” program and of John Luther Adams’s monumental Inuksuit.  Meanwhile the sextet’s recent recording of Steve Reich’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet was selected for numerous “Best of 2010” lists, and a new disc, showcasing 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon’s new concerto On a Wire, is due for February release.  Both works were commissioned expressly for eighth blackbird; as Gramophone magazine concluded, in a January 2011 profile of the group, “clearly the ensemble is thriving.”
eighth blackbird takes “Still Life” to Carnegie’s Zankel Hall (Jan 31)
It was when eighth blackbird made its 2008 debut at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall that the New York Times’s Allan Kozinn realized just how far the group had come from its beginnings.  For its upcoming return to the venue (January 31 at 7:30pm), the sextet plays its whimsical “Still Life” program, showcasing two eighth blackbird commissions: Stephen Hartke’s Meanwhile (2007, a finalist for the 2008 Pulitzer), which evokes the surreal world of an imaginary Asian court theater, and Missy Mazzoli’s Still Life with Avalanche (2008), described by the composer as “a pile of melodies collapsing in a chaotic free fall.”  With these new works – along with such unlikely bedfellows as the dense, swirling hive of notes in Philippe Hurel’s ...à mesure (1996), Pierre Boulez’s otherworldly Dérive 1 (1984), the playtime hi-jinks of Thomas Adès’s Catch (1991), and the hypnotic repetitions of Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion (1969) – “Still Life” highlights the kaleidoscopic diversity of contemporary music.
It was for a similar program at the Cabrillo Festival last summer that the San Jose Mercury News praised the sextet for “bring[ing] classical music into closer sync with the theatrical and pop-music worlds,” also noting: “But what’s unique to eighth blackbird is its fluid and playful choreography, the way the musicians move about the stage as they perform.  It’s not quite ballet, but that’s the idea: to bring out a physical/visual representation of the music.”
Group curates and plays “Tune-In” festival at NYC’s Park Avenue Armory (Feb 16-20)
Its success at the 2009 Ojai Music Festival having established eighth blackbird as the first choice for new-music festivals in search of inspired curatorship, the sextet was selected to curate the Park Avenue Armory’s new “Tune-In” festival in New York City.  Comprising five days of new music from February 16-20, “Tune-In” brings together an array of leading new-music groups, including San Diego-based percussion lab, red fish blue fish; New York City’s Argento Chamber Ensemble; “potent, composer-led” (New Yorker) Newspeak; and Sympho, with “visionary” (Time Out) conductor Paul Haas.  Part palace, part industrial shed, the Armory fills a critical void in the cultural ecology of New York by enabling artists to create – and the public to experience – unconventional work that could not otherwise be mounted in traditional performance halls and museums.  With its soaring 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall, reminiscent of 19th-century European train stations, the Armory boasts cathedral-like acoustics and an informal ambience that offers an escape from the confines and formalities of traditional concert halls.  The festival also offers open rehearsals and artist talks in the Armory’s constellation of spectacular period rooms.
Closing the festival is the New York (and indoor) premiere of Inuksuit (2009) by John Luther Adams, described by the New Yorker as “one of the most original musical thinkers of the 21st century,” whose composition features more than 70 percussionists moving throughout the expansive hall during the performance. Other highlights include eighth blackbird and friends playing special versions of the group’s new, politically-charged, two-part program – “PowerFUL/LESS” – addressing Stravinsky’s provocative statement questioning the meaning and power of art.  Part one, “Powerful,” presents music freighted with passionate political beliefs: Frederic Rzewski’s intense musical grenade Coming Together (1972) and works by Cage, Andriessen, Rob Davidson, David Little, and Matt Marks.  Part two, “Powerless”, celebrates the rich and multifaceted world of “absolute” music that seeks no meaning beyond its own internal structures: Reich’s seminal Music for 18 Musicians (1974-76), marking the composer’s 75th birthday in 2011; Bach’s timeless Chaconne; Kurt Schwitters’s UrSonate for solo speaker (1922-32); and in vain, scored for 24 musicians, by Georg Friedrich Haas (2000).  As sextet member Matt Albert explains, the group is eager to gauge audience reactions to the two programs: “Will they feel the political message in the overtly political music?  And, on the other side, will the reaction to the “Powerless” program be purely musical?”  Festival program details follow below.
Sextet’s recording of Reich’s Double Sextet makes numerous “Best of 2010” lists
In September, eighth blackbird’s recording of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet – commissioned and premiered by the ensemble and winner of the 2009 Pulitzer – was released on the Nonesuch label.  As Gramophone magazine describes, the work “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.  Now the disc has been selected as one of the best releases of 2010 by numerous media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, which dubbed it a “pulsating new Nonesuch CD,” the San Jose Mercury News, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, NPR Music, and The Big City, a New York City blog.  As Chicago Time Out –another to list the new disc as one of the “Best Albums of 2010” – observes, “eighth blackbird soars.”
On February 22, the sextet issues its second recording of the season to feature a new commission from a recent Pulitzer Prize-winner, when it helps launch the Atlanta Symphony’s brand new CD label – ASO Media – with On a Wire, a concerto by last year’s winner, Jennifer Higdon.  Like Double Sextet, On a Wire was written for and premiered by eighth blackbird.  Although it 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 also nominated for a Grammy, and Zango Bandango is a popular eighth blackbird encore.
A list of eighth blackbird’s winter engagements follows below, and much additional information is available at the group’s web site:
“Still Life” at Carnegie Hall
Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, NYC
Jan 31, 7:30pm
“Still Life” (acoustic)
Missy Mazzoli: Still Life with Avalanche (2008)
Pierre Boulez: Dérive 1 (1984)
Philip Glass: Music in Similar Motion (1969)
Philippe Hurel: …à mesure (1996)
Thomas Adès: Catch (1991)
Stephen Hartke: Meanwhile (2007)
“Tune-In” festival
Park Avenue Armory
Feb 16-20
643 Park Avenue, NYC
Wed, Feb 16:
Paul Haas, Paul Fowler and Bora Yoon: ARCO (world premiere; commissioned by Park Avenue Armory; perf. by Sympho)
Thurs, Feb 17:  “Powerful”:
Frederic Rzewski Coming Together (1972) arr. Matt Albert (perf. by eighth blackbird)
music by Rob Davidson, David Little and Matt Marks (perf. by Newspeak)
John Cage Credo in US (1942) for percussion ensemble (perf. by red fish blue fish)
Louis Andriessen Workers Union (1975) for any number of loud-sounding instruments                         (perf. by eighth blackbird and friends)
Fri, Feb 18: “Powerless”:
Georg Friedrich Haas in vain (2000) for 24 players (perf. by Argento Ensemble)
                 Kurt Schwitters UrSonate (1922-32) for solo speaker (NY premiere of arrangement; perf. by Steve Schick)
J.S. Bach Chaconne from the Partita in D minor (1717-23) for solo violin arr. Matt Albert (perf. by eighth blackbird and friends)
Steve Reich Music for 18 Musicians (1974-76) (perf. by eighth blackbird and friends)
Sun, Feb 20: “Inuksuit”:
                 John Luther Adams Inuksuit (2009; NY/indoor premiere; perf. by members of eighth blackbird and more than 70 percussionists)
eighth blackbird’s winter engagements:
Jan 13-16
Residency at Akron Symphony Orchestra
Akron, OH
Jan 15
On a Wire with Akron Symphony Orchestra
Akron, OH
Jan 17
“Live from WFMT” performance/radio broadcast
Chicago, IL
Jan 22
Museum of Contemporary Art
Chicago, IL
Jan 24-28
Residency at University of Richmond
Richmond, VA
Jan 26
“Chamber Music of Arnold Schoenberg”
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA
Jan 31
“Still Life” (acoustic)
Carnegie Hall, Zankel Hall
Feb 5
Museum of Contemporary Art
Chicago, IL
Feb 16 – 20
“Tune-In” festival: “PowerFUL/less”
Park Avenue Armory
Feb 22
“Still Life”
Eastman School of Music
Rochester, NY
March 1
Contempo Double Bill
Harris Theater
Chicago, IL
March 3
“Still Life”
California State University, Fullerton
Fullerton, CA
March 5
Stanford University
Stanford, CA
March 10
On a Wire with Toronto Symphony Orchestra / Oundjian
Toronto, Canada
March 14-18
Residency at University of Richmond
Richmond, VA
March 14
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA
March 22-23
Residency at University of Texas
Austin, TX
March 23
University of Texas
Austin, TX
March 26
“Still Life” (amplified)
Ensemble Music Society / Indiana Museum of Art
Indianapolis, IN


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