Eighth Blackbird Biography


Eighth Blackbird in concert at Teatro Carlo San Felice in Genoa, Italy 2019. PC: Patrizia Lanna

Eighth Blackbird’s mission is to move music forward through innovative performance, advocacy for music by living composers, and its legacy of guiding an emerging generation of musicians.

Eighth Blackbird, hailed as “one of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet” (Chicago Tribune), began in 1996 as a group of six entrepreneurial Oberlin Conservatory students and quickly became “a brand-name defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality” (Detroit Free Press). Over the course of more than two decades, Eighth Blackbird 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 composers both established and emerging, and have 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. Longstanding collaborative relationships have led to performances with some of the most well-regarded classical artists of today from heralded performers like Dawn Upshaw and Jeremy Denk, to seminal composers like Philip Glass and Nico Muhly. In recent projects, Eighth Blackbird has joined forces with genre-fluid composers and performers, including The National’s Bryce Dessner, Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Perry, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, My Brightest Diamond frontwoman Shara Nova, Will Oldham aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Iarla Ó Lionáird of The Gloaming, among others. When We Are Inhuman, their most recent album, a collaboration with Oldham and Dessner with new arrangements by Lisa Kaplan, was released on August 30, 2019 on 37d03d/Secretly Canadian. Singing in the Dead of Night, written for Eighth Blackbird by Michael Gordon and Pulitzer Prize-winning David Lang and Julia Wolfe, will be released on Cedille Records in spring, 2020.

Eighth Blackbird first gained wide recognition in 1998 as winners of the Concert Artists Guild Competition. Since 2000, the ensemble has called Chicago home, and has been committed to serving as both importer and exporter of world class artistic experiences to and from Chicago. A year-long pioneering residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago in 2016, during which the ensemble served as a living installation with open rehearsals, performances, guest artists, and public talks, exemplified their stature as community influencers. Receiving the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, Chamber Music America’s inaugural Visionary Award, and being named Musical America’s 2017 Ensemble of the Year have supported Eighth Blackbird’s position as a catalyst for innovation in the new music ecosystem of Chicago and beyond.

Eighth Blackbird’s impact extends to beyond touring and recording to curation and education. The ensemble served as Music Director of the 2009 Ojai Music Festival, has held residencies at the Curtis Institute of Music and at the University of Chicago, and serves as an ongoing Ensemble-in-Residence at the University of Richmond. In 2017 and 2018, Eighth Blackbird ran its boldest initiative yet, the Blackbird Creative Laboratory, an inclusive, two-week summer workshop and performance festival for performers and composers in Ojai, CA. Some of The Lab’s network of 60 alumni presented regional events and side-by-side concerts across the country and in Melbourne, Australia with members of Eighth Blackbird in the 2018-19 season.

The name “Eighth Blackbird” derives from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’s evocative, imagistic poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird: “I know noble accents / And lucid, inescapable rhythms; / But I know, too, / That the blackbird is involved / In what I know.”

Eighth Blackbird is managed by David Lieberman Artists.