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eighth blackbird’s spring 2010

Highlights of eighth blackbird’s spring 2010 line-up include Rinde Eckert and Steve Mackey’s new music-theater piece Slide, which the sextet premiered last summer and to which it now devotes a three-city U.S. tour (March 3 – April 10).  The group’s spring programs also showcase Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet in performances at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute (Feb 24), the L.A. County Museum of Art (April 28), and the ensemble’s Winnipeg and Minneapolis debuts (Feb 11 and May 1, respectively).  Both works, like Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérez’s new composition, Five Memos, that the Grammy-winning group will premiere at New York’s Look & Listen Festival (May 7), were commissioned by and written especially for eighth blackbird.  For its L.A. gig, the sextet will also reprise its recently-premiered new production of Schoenberg’s expressionist masterpiece Pierrot lunaire.  With frequent performances of the “Meanwhile” program, academic residencies, and a special benefit on March 15 besides, eighth blackbird’s spring looks to be a very full one.

Anticipating the group’s Chicago premiere of Slide (2009), Tribune critic John von Rhein described the show 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.

When it was announced that Double Sextet (2007) had won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, composer Steve 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.  During its residency at Philadelphia’s distinguished Curtis Institute (Feb 22-24), eighth blackbird will combine forces with musicians from the school’s own contemporary music group – Curtis 20/21 – to perform the work completely live, as the centerpiece of a joint recital on February 24.  Similarly, at eighth blackbird’s Minneapolis debut at the Walker Art Center on May 1, the sextet will team up with local new music ensemble Zeitgeist for a live rendition of Double Sextet as part of “The Only Moving Thing”.  This program also features another eighth blackbird commission and music/theater piece – singing in the dead of night by Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, with stage direction by Susan Marshall – described by the Washington Post as “new music you could bring home to your mother.”

By contrast, in both Winnipeg and Los Angeles, eighth blackbird will perform Double Sextet alone, against its own pre-taped recording.  The sextet’s Winnipeg debut on February 11 also includes two works from the “Meanwhile” program – Thomas Adès’s humorous Catch (1991) depicts a hilarious musical seduction and Stephen Hartke’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Meanwhile (2007) evokes bizarre imaginary Asian court theatre – plus evanescence (2006) by Winnipeg’s own Gordon Fitzell, who will perform the live, processed electronics for his piece.  At the L.A. County Museum of Art on April 28, Double Sextet will be coupled with eighth blackbird’s new version of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire (1912).  At 98 years of age, Schoenberg’s expressionist masterpiece still has the power to shock and inspire awe. Directed and conceived by renowned New York choreographer Mark DeChiazza, this new production features soprano Lucy Shelton, dancer Elyssa Dole, and eighth blackbird percussionist Matthew Duvall in the title role. This event will also feature another work from the “Meanwhile” program – Missy Mazzoli’s Still Life with Avalanche (2008) – that, like Evanescence and Meanwhile itself, was specifically written for eighth blackbird.

Several of these works – Still Life with Avalanche, Catch, and Meanwhile – will be on offer to Chicago patrons attending a very special eighth blackbird benefit on March 15: a short, informal performance at the Packer Schopf Gallery, followed by a silent auction and gourmet food from chefs Mario Batali and Paul Kahane in the cozy warmth of celebrated gastro-pub The Publican.

The group performs “Meanwhile” in its entirety in Erie PA, Winchester VA, Columbus OH, Northridge CA, and finally in New York City, at a Peoples’ Symphony Concert in Washington Irving High School on May 8.  The all-acoustic program features a variety of works, some of which are old favorites while others are spanking new. Besides Meanwhile, Catch, and Still Life with Avalanche, “Meanwhile” also comprises Pierre Boulez’s Dérive 1, Marc Mellits’s Spam, and George Perle’s Critical Moments 2.

On the preceding day, eighth blackbird gives another New York performance, at the Look & Listen Festival.  Presenting new music in the intimate setting of local modern art galleries, Look & Listen has been described as “stand[ing] out, even in a very crowded field, as a genuinely innovative series” (John Schaefer, WNYC).  This season, the festival presents its first commission: a new work by Dr. Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérrez, entitled Five Memos, that was written for eighth blackbird, who will perform the world premiere on May 7.  Sánchez-Gutiérrez, on sabbatical leave from the Eastman School of Music, was born in Mexico, and won a 2008 Fromm Music Foundation commission from which Five Memos results.

Spring may draw to a close, but eighth blackbird’s schedule is far from losing momentum.  As a spectacular season finale, the sextet makes its debut with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on June 3, in another world premiere: this time a new concerto, On a Wire, written expressly for the group by the prolific and popular Jennifer Higdon.

A list of eighth blackbird’s key spring engagements follows below, with full program information; and much additional information is available at the group’s web site:


eighth blackbird’s spring 2010 engagements:

Feb 11
Winnipeg, Manitoba – debut
Gordon Fitzell: evanescence; Reich: Double Sextet
Adès: Catch; Hartke: Meanwhile
Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
New Music Festival
Feb 13
Evanston, IL
Northwestern University
Feb 18-19
Erie, PA
Penn State Erie, residency
Feb 18
Erie, PA
Penn State Erie – Logan Series
Feb 21
Winchester, VA
Shenandoah University, Armstrong Concert Hall
Feb 22- 24
Philadelphia, PA
Curtis Institute of Music, residency
Feb 24
Philadelphia, PA
Double Sextet and other works
eighth blackbird and 20/21
Curtis Institute of Music, Field Concert Hall
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 15
Chicago, IL
an eighth blackbird benefit
Packer Schopf Gallery / The Publican
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
April 17
Columbus, OH
Chamber Music Columbus, Southern Theatre
April 19-23
Richmond, VA
University of Richmond, residency 6
Modlin Center for the Arts
April 28
Los Angeles, CA
Pierrot lunaire; Double Sextet
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Bing Theater
April 29
Northridge, CA
California State University Northridge, Plaza del Sol
May 1
Minneapolis, MN – debut
“The Only Moving Thing”
Walker Art Center, McGuire Theater
May 7
New York City
Five Memos by Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérez – world premiere
Look & Listen Festival
May 8
New York, NY
Peoples’ Symphony Concerts
Washington Irving High School

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© 21C Media Group, January 2010

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