Sunday, February 17, 2019

Eighth Blackbird Comes Home for 2019 Performances in Chicago

Four-time Grammy Award winner Eighth Blackbird, which aims to move music forward with innovative chamber music performance, comes home to Chicago in 2019 with a series of concerts showcasing the ensemble members together and in smaller configurations, performing new works from its international touring program.
Rather than engaging Chicagoans from a single location, as the ensemble did in 2016 with a yearlong MCA residency, this spring Eighth Blackbird brings programs to a variety of venues and neighborhoods on a range of days and times. Between March and October, the ensemble collaborates on a series of events with private and public cultural partners. The trajectory leading to the 2021–22 season, the group’s 25th anniversary, is anchored by Chicago partnerships, old and new, including three projects with Cedille Records.

“We have a deep commitment to bringing new, groundbreaking work to audiences in our hometown,” said ensemble member Nathalie Joachim. “Eighth Blackbird aims to change the circumstances in which concerts occur by removing barriers for new listeners to experience some extraordinary 21st century work and some very special collaborators we’re bringing to the city. The wider the ensemble’s international reach, the greater the opportunity, and obligation, for Eighth Blackbird to bring it all home.” 
Spring performances
Eighth Blackbird’s first major appearance is ice ’n’ SPICE, an eclectic acoustic concert that features the sextet performing together. The concert, which takes its title from a work on the program written by LA-based composer and Blackbird Creative Lab alumna Nina Shekhar, also includes Electric Aroma by Lab alumnus Viet Cuong and Eroding by Iceland-born Lab alumna Fjóla Evans, three of 12 new works commissioned by Elizabeth and Justus Schlichting for the Blackbird Creative Lab in 2017 and 2018. The Clarity of Cold Air by Jon Holland, Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup by Holly Harrison (which won Eighth Blackbird the Performance of the Year award at Australia’s Art Music Awards in 2017), and Stay On It by Julius Eastman round out the evening. ice ’n’ SPICE takes place Monday, March 25 at 7 p.m. at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. Tickets are $22–32 and available at

Eighth Blackbird joins the lineup of Steppenwolf’s LookOut Series with DISSOLVE, an evening featuring the six ensemble members performing in their signature full-group form, as well as in smaller subsets showcasing their playful, intimate, and spirited versatility. The program includes works by Chicago Symphony Orchestra Mead Composer-in-Residence Missy Mazzoli, Blackbird Creative Lab alumnus Viet Cuong, Puerto Rican-born Angélica Negrón, 2018–19 Rome Prize winner Jessie Marino, and more. DISSOLVE takes place Friday and Saturday, May 17 and 18 at 8 p.m. at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre, 1700 N. Halsted Street, Chicago. Tickets are $35 general admission, $15 for students, available through Steppenwolf’s box office later this spring. Ensemble members will join audience members in Front Bar for conversation after the performance.

Other spring activities
Among its priorities, Eighth Blackbird has long been committed to the development of the next generation of performers and composers through commissions, presentations, mentorship, and educational programs including its Blackbird Creative Lab, a professional training program and artistic community for emerging music and interdisciplinary artists.  After two summer intensives in California, in 2019 Eighth Blackbird is focusing on the Lab’s long-term artistic and career development goals for its first 60 alumni with activities including regional showcases for Lab alumni and a reunion in Chicago featuring performances at such intimate venues as Elastic Arts (March 15) and the ACE Hotel (March 17) and an appearance on “Live from WFMT” on 98.7FM (March 18). More information is available at Lab alumni will also be showcased in June in Chicago and at the Great Lakes Festival in Michigan alongside the sextet.

This week the National Endowment for the Arts recommended Eighth Blackbird for a $20,000 grant to renew its major support for the Blackbird Creative Lab in 2019. The Paul M. Angell Foundation is supporting the weekend of Chicago reunion events, including the free public concert March 17 at the Ace Hotel and the “Live from WFMT” broadcast the following night.

Other spring performances to date include the ensemble’s debut on the Rush Hour Concerts series in a free after-work performance Tuesday, June 18 at St. James Cathedral; New Music Chicago Presents, featuring Lab alumni in a free noon performance Thursday, June 20 at the Chicago Cultural Center; and other June events in collaboration with Chicago civic and cultural institutions to be announced later this spring.
Eighth Blackbird
Eighth Blackbird, founded when its members were Oberlin Conservatory students in 1996, has continually pushed at the edges of what it means to be a contemporary chamber ensemble, presenting distinct programs in Chicago, nationally, and internationally, reaching audiences totaling tens of thousands. The sextet has commissioned and premiered hundreds of works by established and emerging composers and perpetuated the creation of music with profound impact, such as Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, which went on to win the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. The ensemble’s extensive recording history, primarily with Chicago’s Cedille Records, has produced more than a dozen acclaimed albums and four Grammy Awards for Best Small Ensemble/Chamber Music Performance, most recently in 2016 for Filament. Eighth Blackbird won the 1998 Concert Artists Guild Competition, received Chamber Music America’s inaugural Visionary Award, and was named Musical America’s 2017 Ensemble of the Year. Eighth Blackbird’s mission—moving music forward through innovative performance, advocating for new music by living composers, and creating a legacy of guiding an emerging generation of musicians—extends beyond recording and touring to curation and education.
Eighth Blackbird’s musicians are Nathalie Joachim, flutes; Michael J. Maccaferri, clarinets; Yvonne Lam, violin and viola; Nick Photinos, cello; Matthew Duvall, percussion; and Lisa Kaplan, piano.
For information, visit
All photos of Eighth Blackbird by Saverio Truglia.

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