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Biography
Grammy-winning eighth blackbird promises – and delivers – provocative and engaging 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 widely lauded for its performing style – often playing from memory with theatrical flair – and for making new music accessible to wide audiences. The New York Times raved: “eighth blackbird’s performances are the picture of polish and precision, and they seem to be thoroughly engaged…by music in a broad range of contemporary styles.” 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. The group is in residence at the University of Richmond in Virginia and the University of Chicago.

Kicking off its 2009-10 season, the group’s 14th, eighth blackbird makes its debut at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, playing the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Grazioso!, which was commissioned by the festival for the ensemble. In other season highlights, eighth blackbird presents a new version of Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire, with choreography and direction by Mark DeChiazza and starring soprano Lucy Shelton and dancer Elyssa Dole. The ensemble performs Slide, a new music-theater piece by Rinde Eckert and Steven Mackey (premiered at the Ojai Music Festival this summer) at the University of Richmond in Virginia, and then takes the piece to the ensemble’s hometown, Chicago, where the group has its own two-concert series at the Harris Theater; finally, Slide goes to the University of Maryland, where the ensemble has a residency this season. During another season residency, at the Curtis Institute of Music, eighth blackbird performs Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning piece Double Sextet, which was commissioned and premiered by the ensemble and features prominently on its season programming. The ensemble stops in New York City for the Look & Listen Festival and the Peoples’ Symphony Concerts, and it makes its Minneapolis debut, performing Double Sextet at the Walker Art Center. Rounding off the season in June, eighth blackbird gives the world premiere of a new concerto for sextet and orchestra by Jennifer Higdon, with the Atlanta Symphony.

Highlights of eighth blackbird’s 2008-09 season included collaborations and performances with conservatory students from Oberlin and Los Angeles’s Colburn School; debuts in the UK (Liverpool), Rotterdam, and Australia (Melbourne); and “hometown” concerts at Chicago’s Harris Theater with guest artists Glenn Kotche and the Hilliard Ensemble. The sextet was Music Director of the famed Ojai Music Festival, where, as part of its “wild musical party,” the ensemble gave the world premiere of Slide. During the season, eighth blackbird performed new works by Frederic Rzewski and Stephen Hartke, and premiered the live version of Reich’s Double Sextet.

In recent seasons, eighth blackbird launched its program “The Only Moving Thing,” comprising new commissions by Steve Reich and by David Lang, Michael Gordon, and Julia Wolfe. The group made its Zankel Hall debut and also performed for the first time at The Kitchen in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Houston Friends of Music, and Pittsburgh’s Chamber Music Society. It also inaugurated its own hometown series – now in its third season – at the prestigious Harris Theater at Millennium Park. The group toured Osvaldo Golijov’s song-cycle Ayre with soprano Dawn Upshaw and performed a fully memorized and staged cabaret-opera version of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire.

The sextet has appeared in Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, and South Korea; at nearly every major chamber music venue in North America, with performances at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, the Metropolitan Museum, Kennedy Center, Library of Congress, Cleveland Museum of Art, and La Jolla Chamber Music Society; and has been concert soloist with the Utah Symphony and the American Composers Orchestra. A summer favorite, the group took the reigns as Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival’s 2009 season, and it has appeared several times at Cincinnati’s Music X, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Caramoor International Music Festival, and Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, also performing at Tanglewood, New York’s 20th annual Bang on a Can Marathon, and Bravo!-Vail.

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. eighth blackbird received the first BMI/Boudleaux-Bryant Fund Commission, was the first contemporary music group to win the Grand Prize at the Concert Artists Guild International Competition, won the 2000 Naumburg Chamber Music Award and the 2004 NEA/CMA Special Commissioning Award, and has received grants from BMI, Meet The Composer, the Greenwall Foundation, and Chamber Music America, among many others.

The ensemble is enjoying acclaim for its four CDs released by Cedille Records. The most recent – strange imaginary animals, released in November 2006 – won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance, and has garnered an almost unprecedented 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 Sextet, which eighth blackbird recorded in August 2009, for release by Nonesuch Records during the 2010-11 season. The group’s first CD, thirteen ways, featured works by Perle, Schober, Joan Tower, and Thomas Albert, and was selected as a Top Ten CD of 2003 by Billboard magazine. beginnings, featuring Kellogg’s Divinum Mysterium and George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae, was praised by the New York Times as having “all the sparkle, energy, and precision of the earlier outings. … It is their superb musicality and interpretive vigor that bring these pieces to life.” Of fred, eighth blackbird’s disc comprising three Rzewski works, the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “The music covers all kinds of moods and approaches, from dreamy surrealism to caffeinated unison melodies, and the members of eighth blackbird deliver it all with their trademark panache.” In 2006, the group debuted on the Naxos label in a performance of The Time Gallery, commissioned by eighth blackbird from 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec.

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.

This biography was most recently edited by...
sbarnebey - 12 Dec 2009
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