Grammy-winning eighth blackbird promises – and delivers – provocative and mind-changing performances to its burgeoning audiences. Combining bracing virtuosity with an alluring sense of irreverence, the sextet debunks the myth that contemporary music is only for a cerebral few. The ensemble attracts fans of all ages to its performances and recordings, which sparkle with wit and pound with physical energy; it inhabits and explores the sound-world of new music with comfort, conviction, and infectious enthusiasm. eighth blackbird is lauded for its performing style – often playing from memory with theatrical flair – and for making new music accessible to wide audiences. “It’s new music you can bring home to your mother,” observed the Washington Post. Profiled in the New York Times and NPR’s All Things Considered, the sextet has also been featured on Bloomberg TV’s Muse, CBS News Sunday Morning, St. Paul Sunday, Weekend America, and The Next Big Thing, among others.
Now celebrating its 15th season, eighth blackbird showcases music by the two most recent Pulitzer Prize-winning composers in its 2010-11 recording and performing repertoire, programming new and recent works (written expressly for the ensemble) by both Jennifer Higdon and Steve Reich on its season concerts and CDs. Highlights include a return to Zankel Hall; performances at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, representing the fourth year of the ensemble’s hometown series; a tour of Higdon’s new concerto On a Wire with several high-profile orchestras; Reich festivals on both sides of the Atlantic – at Carnegie Hall and London’s Barbican Hall; a return to the Library of Congress for a concert that includes the world premiere of a new work by Stephen Hartke; and two new CDs – featuring, respectively, Reich’s prize-winning Double Sextet (on Nonesuch) and Steven Mackey and Rinde Eckert’s music-theater piece Slide (on Cedille).
Since its founding in 1996, eighth blackbird has actively commissioned and recorded new works from such eminent composers as Steve Reich, George Perle, Frederic Rzewski, and Joseph Schwantner, and has commissioned groundbreaking works from a younger generation (Jennifer Higdon, Stephen Hartke, Derek Bermel, David Schober, Daniel Kellogg, and Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérrez). The group was honored in 2007 with the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and a Meet The Composer Award.
The ensemble has enjoyed widespread acclaim for its four CDs released by Cedille Records. strange imaginary animals won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance and amassed an impressive number of rave reviews, both in the U.S. press and internationally. Absolute Sound wrote of the album: “Like the band itself, all the music is fresh, vibrant, exciting, and slightly addictive. … I don’t know what eighth blackbird has planned for the future, [but] whatever comes next, their track record strongly suggests that it will be great.” What comes next – and has already been deemed great in the form of a Pulitzer Prize – is Steve Reich’s Double
eighth blackbird is active in teaching young artists about contemporary music and, in addition to residencies, has taught master classes and conducted outreach activities around the country, at the Aspen Music School System (grades K-12), the La Jolla Chamber Music Series, the Candlelight Concert Series, Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa, and throughout the Greater Chicago area.
The members of eighth blackbird hold degrees in music performance from Oberlin Conservatory, among other institutions. The group derives its name from the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” The eighth stanza reads:
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.