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Steve Reich’s Double Sextet wins 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music

Steve Reich’s Double Sextet
commissioned by eighth blackbird and given its first performances by the group
last season – has won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music.  The prize is awarded for a
distinguished musical composition, written by an American and first performed
or recorded in the U.S. over the previous year, and this is the second time an
eighth blackbird commission has been nominated (Stephen Hartke’s Meanwhile received a
nod last year).  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.  For both the world premiere, on March 26, 2008 at the
University of Richmond, Virginia, and the New York premiere, at Carnegie’s
Zankel Hall on April 17, 2008, eighth blackbird performed
simultaneously live and pre-recorded; a few months later, the
Grammy-winning group collaborated with six students from the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble to perform the work
completely live at New York’s downtown new music venue The Kitchen. 

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,” Steve Reich says of Double
, which, by juxtaposing live
and taped musicians, recalls several of his compositions in the“Counterpoint” series, as well as his ensemble pieces
Different Trains and Triple
.  The composer explains:

“It’s the idea of writing basically unison canons – the same
timbre playing against itself, so that when they intertwine, you don’t hear the
individual voice; you hear the composite. 
Now, if you have several composites going on at the same time, you
really get to an interesting situation, and that’s what’s going on in Double

During both this season and
last, eighth blackbird – “a hugely talented and endlessly inventive sextet,” as
per the Chicago Sun-Times –
toured the work across the U.S. and England as part of a program entitled “The
Only Moving Thing”.  Matt Albert,
violin and viola player of the ensemble, explains that Double Sextet is“music
we get a real charge out of.  With
Reich, you have an artist who creates beauty with patterns, repetition, and
minimalism.”  Tim Munro, the
group’s flutist, says: “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
adds, “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
music critic Mark Swed, who reviewed eighth blackbird’s performance of Double
at the Orange County
Performing Arts Center; describing the piece as a “kind of explosion of
fractured rhythms that never ceases to amaze the ear,” he pronounced the
concert “a really good, rocking, rollicking performance.”

summer, eighth blackbird will serve as music director of the Ojai Music
Festival.  It joins a list of music
directors that includes Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Pierre Boulez, Lukas
Foss, John Adams, and Oliver Knussen, and is only the second ensemble to hold
this position.  Besides performing Double
, one of the highlights of
this summer’s festival will be eighth blackbird’s performing the eagerly-awaited world premiere of Steven Mackey’s Slide, with Rinde Eckert as narrator/singer.  This work, “a labor of love for eighth
blackbird”, is the centerpiece of Ojai 2009.

Double Sextet was commissioned by eighth
blackbird through the support of the Carnegie Hall Corporation, the Abe Fortas
Memorial Fund of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Liverpool
Culture Company – European Capital of Culture 2008, the Modlin Center for the
Arts at the University of Richmond, Orange County Performing Arts Center, and
the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music – Music 08 Festival.

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