I’ve performed with eighth blackbird when they came and collaborated with the IRIS Orchestra of Memphis. A fine example of musicians carving out their own niche in the music world and creating something original and compelling in the process:
eighth blackbird helps launch new CD label and new music festival this winter
“eighth blackbird play like musicians possessed” — BBC Music
The ultimate ambassador for new music, eighth blackbird has become the go-to ensemble for living composers at the top of their game. This winter, the group issues its second recording of the season to feature a new commission from a recent Pulitzer Prize-winner: September saw eighth blackbird’s Nonesuch release of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, winner of last year’s Pulitzer, and in the new year the sextet helps launch the Atlanta Symphony’s brand new CD label – ASO Media – with On a Wire, a concerto by this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winner, Jennifer Higdon. Both commissions – like a wealth of other important new works – were written for and premiered by eighth blackbird. The Grammy Award-winning sextet is moreover the first choice of new-music festivals looking for inspired and visionary curators. Following its success at California’s Ojai Music Festival, eighth blackbird has now been invited to curate and perform at the “Tune-In” festival at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory in February. Meanwhile the group’s intensive touring schedule continues apace; besides performing On a Wire with the Toronto, Vermont, and Akron Symphonies, eighth blackbird looks forward to recitals in venues including the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art and Carnegie’s Zankel Hall.
eighth blackbird’s recording of Higdon’s On a Wire is centerpiece of first ASO Media CD (Feb 22)
One of the most prolific and frequently performed American composers alive today, Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) is having a momentous year; in February her Percussion Concerto was awarded the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition and two months later she won the Pulitzer Prize for her Violin Concerto; as the New York Times observed, she has become “a hot commodity.” With the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Robert Spano, eighth blackbird gave her new concerto, On a Wire, its world premiere last season. The work impressed the San Francisco Chronicle as an “exuberantly beautiful and inventive group concerto which left the audience exhilarated,” and the group’s performance, as the Mercury News bore witness, was “dispatched with dazzling flair,” making it “hard to imagine another sextet playing it with such energy and precision.”
It is this premiere performance that headlines the first release – due out on February 22, 2011 – on the Atlanta Symphony’s new CD label, ASO Media. The orchestra has already amassed an impressive 27 Grammy Awards in its 32-year recording history, so the new label promises to make its mark – not least with eighth blackbird’s contribution on this first, major release. Although On a Wire marks Higdon’s first concerto for eighth blackbird, it is not the first piece she has written for the sextet. 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.
On a Wire is a staple of eighth blackbird’s current season, with upcoming winter performances at the Vermont and Akron Symphonies (Dec 4 & Jan 14 respectively), followed by the Canadian premiere with the Toronto Symphony directed by Peter Oundjian (March 10). Additional spring dates culminate in a high-profile collaboration with the Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst in May.
Sextet curates and plays “Tune-In” festival at NYC’s Park Avenue Armory (Feb 16-20)
After the success of eighth blackbird’s collective curatorship of the 2009 Ojai Music Festival, the sextet has been selected to curate the Park Avenue Armory’s “Tune-In” contemporary music 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 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 John Luther Adams’s Inuksuit (2009), which features more than 70 percussionists moving throughout the expansive hall during the performance. “Tune-In” also presents the world premiere of a new work, ARCO, commissioned by the Armory and co-created by Paul Haas, Paul Fowler, and Bora Yoon, which will be performed by Sympho. 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). Festival program details are below.
Ensemble takes “Still Life” to Carnegie’s Zankel Hall (Jan 31)
It is with a popular and more playful program, “Still Life,” that eighth blackbird returns to Carnegie’s Zankel Hall on January 31. This diverse and whimsical selection includes Missy Mazzoli’s Still Life with Avalanche (2008) and Stephen Hartke’s Pulitzer Prize finalist, Meanwhile (2007), alongside Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion (1969), Philippe Hurel’s …à mesure (1996), Pierre Boulez’s otherworldly Dérive 1 (1984), and Catch (1991) by Thomas Adés. It was a similar program performed at the Cabrillo Festival last summer that the San Jose Mercury News praised for “bring[ing] classical music into closer sync with the theatrical and pop-music worlds. 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.”
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