Eighth Blackbird’s “super-musicians” (Los Angeles Times) combine the finesse of a string quartet, the energy of a rock band, and the audacity of a storefront theater company. The Chicago-based, four-time GRAMMY Award-winning sextet celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2016: two decades of performing for audiences across the country and around the world with impeccable precision and a signature style.
A winner of the 2016 MacArthur Award for Effective and Creative Institutions, Eighth Blackbird has been described as “one of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet” (Chicago Tribune). The group began in 1996 as a six entrepreneurial Oberlin Conservatory students and quickly became “a brand-name…defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality….known for performing from memory, employing choreography and collaborations with theater artists, lighting designers and even puppetry artists” (Detroit Free Press).
Over the course of two decades, Eighth Blackbird has commissioned and premiered hundreds of works by dozens of composers including David T. Little, Steven Mackey, Missy Mazzoli, and Steve Reich, whose commissioned work, Double Sextet, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize (2009). A long-term relationship with Chicago’s Cedille Records has produced seven acclaimed recordings and four impressive GRAMMY Awards for Best Small Ensemble/Chamber Music Performance: for strange imaginary animals (2008), Lonely Motel: Music from Slide (2011), Meanwhile (2013), and Filament (2015).
Filament centers around a live recording of Philip Glass’s early masterpiece, Two Pages, and includes world premiere recordings of works by Bryce Dessner (Murder Ballades), Nico Muhly (Doublespeak), and two remixes by Son Lux, whose tracks gather sounds from the other compositions on the album, stringing together the album’s musical ‘filament’ and adding the voice of Shara Worden (of My Brightest Diamond). Filament was selected as Album of the Week by WQXR/Q2 Music, Seattle’s Second Inversion, and the Chicago Tribune. The San Francisco Chronicle called it “wonderful…a fine release…comprising both restless energy and reverence.”
The centerpiece of Eighth Blackbird’s 2015-16 touring season is the concert-length production Hand Eye, which pairs Eighth Blackbird with Sleeping Giant—a superstar composer sextet (Timo Andres, Andrew Norman, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, Robert Honstein) who each contribute one movement to the piece. For the fully produced version performed in select cities, the evening is complemented with projections by the acclaimed visual performance designer Deborah Johnson, aka CandyStations. The New York Times says, “Each piece of this diverse, eclectic and colorful suite had its own voice and character, qualities that came through in Eighth Blackbird’s exhilarating performance. Yet, as the creators intended, the overall work had narrative thrust and a structural arc, even a shared aesthetic, common among younger composers today, that values the mixing of styles from all realms of contemporary music.” A recording of Hand Eye will be released April 8 on Cedille Records.
Eighth Blackbird’s mission—to move music forward through innovative performance, advocacy for new music by living composers, and a legacy of guiding an emerging generation of musicians —extends beyond recording and touring to curation and education. The ensemble served as Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival (2009), enjoyed a three-year residency at the Curtis Institute of Music, and holds ongoing Ensemble-in-Residence positions at the University of Richmond and the University of Chicago. The 2015-16 season brings a lively residency at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, featuring open rehearsals, an interactive gallery installation, performances, and public talks.
Eighth Blackbird’s members (Nathalie Joachim, flutes; Michael J. Maccaferri, clarinets; Yvonne Lam, violin & viola; Nicholas Photinos, cello; Matthew Duvall, percussion; Lisa Kaplan, piano) hail from the Great Lakes, Keystone, Golden, Empire and Bay states. The name “Eighth Blackbird” derives from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’s evocative, aphoristic poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1917). Eighth Blackbird is managed by David Lieberman Artists’ Representatives.
Nathalie Joachim is a Burkart Flutes & Piccolos Artist. Michael J. Maccaferri is a D’Addario Woodwinds Artist. Matthew Duvall proudly endorses Pearl Drums and Adams Musical Instruments, Vic Firth Sticks and Mallets, Zildjian Cymbals, and Black Swamp Percussion Accessories. Lisa Kaplan is a Steinway Artist.