Press Room

eighth blackbird’s first May flights: a debut, a world premiere, and more

eighth blackbird gets a flying start in May with three important new music events, reprising “The Only Moving Thing” for its Minneapolis debut at the prestigious Walker Art Center on May 1; unveiling the world premiere of Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérrez’s Five Memos at New York City’s innovative Look & Listen Festival on May 7; and presenting the playful “Meanwhile” program at the People’s Symphony Concert series, also in Manhattan, the following night.

The Grammy-winning sextet makes its first Minneapolis appearance at the Walker Art Center, one of the nation’s “big five” modern art museums, on Saturday, May 1 at 8pm“The Only Moving Thing”, eighth blackbird’s kinetic program of newly commissioned works, features five of today’s most prominent names in music and dance, juxtaposing Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet with another eighth blackbird commission, the music/theater piece singing in the dead of night by Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, with stage direction by Susan Marshall.

Double Sextet (2007), Steve Reich’s new work for the group, represents a return to the rhythmic intensity and drive that is synonymous with his most venerated works.  On learning that it 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 work 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.”  Pulsing with energy and life, Double Sextet, which is scored for twelve musicians, will feature eighth blackbird in tandem with Minneapolis’s own new music ensemble Zeitgeist.

“The Only Moving Thing” couples Reich’s masterpiece with another of the sextet’s commissions, singing in the dead of night (2008), an intrepid collaboration between New York mavericks David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe – the three-composer collective who founded Bang on a Can – and groundbreaking choreographer and MacArthur Fellow Susan Marshall.  Inspired by eighth blackbird’s signature predilection for memorization and the embodiment of music through movement, singing in the dead of night is a continuous weave of music and motion that was described in the UK’s Guardian as “mesmerizing.”  The group’s “virtuosic, polished” performance won praise from Allan Kozinn in the New York Times, who confirmed how effectively Marshall’s stage direction “reflected the music’s energy.”

The May 1 performance will be recorded by American Public Media’s Performance Today for broadcast and streaming later in May; this will mark the premiere concert broadcast of Reich’s prize-winning work.

On Friday, May 7 at 8pm, eighth blackbird headlines a program of premieres at New York’s annual Look & Listen Festival.  Presenting new music in the intimate setting of local modern art galleries, Look & Listen “stands out, even in a very crowded field, as a genuinely innovative series” (John Schaefer, WNYC), while “exemplif[ying] the Lower Midtown sound at its best…[and] offer[ing] a cross-section of freethinking New Yorkish music” (Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise).  This season, the festival presents its first commission, Five Memos (2010) by Dr. Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérrez, which was written expressly for eighth blackbird.  The Mexican-born composer, a recipient of the Mozart Medal and awards from the Guggenheim, Fulbright, Barlow, Rockefeller, Bogliasco, and Koussevitzky Foundations, also won a 2008 Fromm Music Foundation commission from which Five Memos results.  On May 7 at Chelsea Art Museum, against a backdrop of art by French abstract painter Jean Miotte, eighth blackbird will present the work’s world premiere, coupled with another piece written especially for the group: Missy Mazzoli’s Still Life with Avalanche (2008).  Still Life was influenced by indie rock, and Mazzoli describes it as “a pile of melodies collapsing in a chaotic free fall, sketching out a strange and evocative sonic landscape.”

Both Sánchez-Gutiérrez and Mazzoli are among the special guests attending the event, at which they will be interviewed by host John Schaefer of WNYC.  A champagne and chocolate reception will follow the concert, which will be recorded for webcast later in May on Q2, New York’s contemporary music stream.

The following night, eighth blackbird reprises Still Life with Avalanche as part of its “Meanwhile” program, when the group returns to the People’s Symphony Concerts at New York’s Washington Irving High School.  Now in its 110th season, the People’s Symphony presents leading artists at lower admission prices than any other major series in the country.  eighth blackbird’s fun, all-acoustic program on Saturday, May 8 features a variety of works, three written specifically for the ensemble, that highlight the humorous side of some very different composers.

Besides Mazzoli’s composition, “Meanwhile” features two staples of eighth blackbird’s repertoire, both originally commissioned and premiered by the group: Stephen Hartke’s Pulitzer finalist piece, Meanwhile (2007), in which prepared piano, wood blocks, a water gong, and Javanese gamelan help to evoke a bizarre imaginary Asian court theater, and the late George Perle’s Critical Moments 2 (2001), as featured on the sextet’s thirteen ways album.  Considered “absorbing and beautiful…, the work of a master,” by the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini, Critical Moments 2 consists of “nine marvelously witty micro-movements” (David Patrick Stearns, Philadelphia Inquirer).  Also programmed are the legendary Pierre Boulez’s Derive 1 (1984), of which the group recently gave “a fantastic reading that showed the work’s luminous, veil-like textures as well as its aggressive intellectual roots and compositional complexity” (Santa Fe New Mexican); Spam (1995), New York native Marc Mellits’s fun, funky homage to the cheap, pre-cooked meat product; and Catch (1991), a wittily-depicted musical seduction by English sensation Thomas Adès, “one of the most imposing figures in contemporary music” (New York Times).

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


eighth blackbird’s early May engagements:
Saturday, May 1 at 8pm
Minneapolis (debut)
Walker Art Center, McGuire Theater
“The Only Moving Thing”
Steve Reich: Double Sextet (2007), featuring Zeitgeist ensemble
David Lang, Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe: singing in the dead of night (2008)
Friday, May 7 at 8pm
2010 Look & Listen Festival
Chelsea Art Museum, 556 West 22nd Street, NYC
Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérrez: Five Memos (2010) – world premiere of first Look & Listen commission
Missy Mazzoli: Still Life with Avalanche (2008)
(event also features performances by Jack Quartet and pianist Jade Simmons)
Saturday, May 8 at 8pm
People’s Symphony Concert
Washington Irving High School, 16th Street and Irving Place, NYC
Missy Mazzoli: Still Life with Avalanche (2008)
Pierre Boulez: Derive 1 (1984)
Marc Mellits: Spam (1995)
George Perle: Critical Moments 2 (2001)
Thomas Adès: Catch (1991)
Stephen Hartke: Meanwhile (2007)

# # #

© 21C Media Group, April 2010

Return to Press Room