I wrote the following blog entry for the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center, in advance of their Philip Glass Festival, running until next week.

Picture me as a tall, gawky 15-year-old, on family vacation. There is a patch of open road near Barcaldine, in the famous “red center” of Australia. A truck (a “ute”) bumps and lists along the corrugated dirt track. I brace myself on the exposed tray. A much-loved, tape-patched Walkman is hugged tight to my chest, piping raw, rude, stark, repetitive music into my ears. The truck’s rough-housing makes a racket, and I’m holding on for dear life, yet my attention is focused solely on the pulsating music in my ears. My eyes are closed. Philip Glass has me in his thrall…

Fast forward ten years. I’ve plucked up the courage to perform Philip’s music in public for the first time. Music in Fifths is a simple-sounding, constant, steady, fast stream of notes for ten minutes. But it’s got me beat. I’m unprepared for the concentration and focus required to rehearse and perform this unrelenting music. I complain to friends, exasperated. “But it’s just so bloody impossible. If I think about a post-rehearsal beer, I’m lost; If a drop of sweat drips into my eye, I’m lost; if I breathe for too long, I’m lost. My embouchure trembles, my body is soaked in sweat. This is musical torture!”

Fast forward another two years. eighth blackbird, my ensemble, is performing with Philip for the first time. I’m regressing, full of the tongue-tied gawkiness of that 15-year-old in the outback. In contrast, Philip is sweet, engaged, complimentary. He asks us how long our version of his piece Music in Similar Motion is, and when we tell him it’s eleven minutes, he says, with a wry smile, “Well, then this rehearsal should take exactly eleven minutes!”

Growing up, my brother and I fought about music. I was the classical geek, walking down the street with a Mahler score in one hand and a conducting baton in the other. My brother was a Bob Dylan-obsessed folk-rock fan-boy, who claimed that classical music was “all head and no heart.” Our fights were bitter, personal. While other mothers worried that their kids were doing drugs or having sex, our mother was defusing brawls about the relative superiority of Ligeti and Beck. The Venn diagram of our musical tastes, however, crossed for just one composer: Philip Glass. In fact, I think it is fair to say that Philip’s music has, over time, brought Simon and me to a place where a peace accord could be drafted. Philip was our musical diplomat…

(Pictured: Tim Munro, composer Andy Akiho, and Michael Maccaferri, during rehearsals for last night’s performance)

Last night the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, hosted the final round of eighth blackbird’s first composition competition.

The performance was the culmination of a year-long process. An initial pool of 504 applicants was winnowed to three finalists, who were each given a cash prize and invited to write a work for eighth blackbird. These three new works were workshopped in an intense, two-day period earlier this week. Last night saw the public premiere of the three pieces, in front of a crowd that included representatives of the competition’s generous partners, MakeMusic and the American Composers Forum.

The following works were performed last night:

Andy Akiho ERASE for sextet (2011)
Eric Lindsay Town’s Gonna Talk for sextet (2011)
Kurt Rohde this bag is not a toy: a very short concerto for mixed ensemble without orchestra for sextet (2011)

Andy Akiho’s work, ERASE, was chosen as the overall winner. He receives an additional cash award and the promise of a future performance by eighth blackbird of the winning work. You can watch videos taken during rehearsals of Andy’s piece here and here.

Well, it was a struggle, but we have whittled down our composition contest pool from 504 to 3. And it was not without its struggles: more than 150 hours of judging time was needed; 143 cups of coffee were drunk; 34.5 arguments were fought; one very large bag of M&Ms was consumed.

The contest is a partnership between MakeMusic, the American Composers Forum and eighth blackbird, and we thank our partners in this process for their significant financial, administrative and moral support.

All eighth blackbird members took part in the process, and, surprisingly, there was a significant amount of group consensus throughout the process.

The three finalists are: Andy Akiho of New Haven, Conn., Eric Lindsay of Bloomington, Ind., and Kurt Rohde of San Francisco, Calif. Each finalist will receive a cash prize and will write a piece for eighth blackbird, which will be workshopped and performed in the ensemble’s Chicago studio. One composer will be chosen to receive the final prize, which includes an additional cash award and a future public performance by eighth blackbird.

We were floored by the quality of submissions, and thought it fair to recognize twelve additional composers, whose pieces made it to our last internal round of judging. They were of such a uniformly high standard, with such diverse and distinctive voices, that we had to give them some sort of recognition.

They are:

Alex Freeman (Northfield, Minn.)
Sean Friar (Princeton, N.J.)
J.M. Gerraughty (Nashua, N.H.)
Aaron Gervais (San Francisco, Calif.)
Yotam Haber (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Derek Johnson (Carmel, Ind.)
Amy Kirsten (New Haven, Conn.)
Zibuokle Martinaityte (New York, N.Y.)
Douglas Pew (Erlanger, Ky.)
Jeremy Podgursky (Bloomington, Ind.)
Mike Solomon (Gainesville, Fla.)
Daniel Wohl (New Haven, Conn.)

For more information, you can visit the American Composers Forum website. We will provide more details (with dates and location) of the finalists’ workshop sometime in the near future. Thanks to all who entered, and rest assured that there were many marvelous, creative, bizarre, accomplished composers who didn’t make it into the final 15.

Thanks to all those who applied for 8bb’s first ever composition contest. Let’s get the really great news out of the way first. We were totally flooded with new musical love, in the form of 503 entries that ran the stylistic gamut, embracing all known and several unknown -isms, and drawing influences from anywhere and everywhere and nowhere.

Unfortunately, the downside to this totally unexpected, glorious tidal wave of scores and CDs (currently clogging our office/kitchen/rehearsal-room/new-music-lab) is that it has taken us longer to narrow the field down to three sterling applicants.

We don’t want to compromise the quality of our judging, so we have decided to postpone the announcement of the three finalists until February 1st. Our sincere apologies if this inconveniences any applicants, but we feel it with ensure the best possible outcome for both entrants and the ensemble.

Alright. I think this counts as a Swallowing Our Pride moment.

eighth blackbird announced its new composition competition (creatively named “eighth blackbird composition competition”) in early February. The initial response was positive, with enthusiastic online notices and a few very early entries, but we did start to get hammered in some quarters for our comp comp’s rules and regulations. These negative reactions surprised us, but on reflection we feel that some of the criticism was deserved. In the strine-tinged words of Kevin Rudd, Australia’s illustrious current Prime Minister, “fair cop, mate.”

In response to the many constructive and informative comments we’ve received, we have decided to postpone the competition.

8bb remains committed to the original intent of the competition – to discover, recognize and perform/record an undiscovered compositional gem – and we will relaunch the whole shebang by June.  In the meantime, we’ll be on the hunt for the best way to create an event that is awesome for all involved. Any works that are currently being written will remain eligible for the relaunched competition, and any application money already submitted will of course be refunded.

In the meantime, feel free to let us know your thoughts about your perfect, utopian, idealized nirvana of a comp comp, either by commenting on this post, or by dropping us a line, at brian@eighthblackbird.com. Oh, and creative name suggestions would be most welcome!

The application deadline is fast approaching for the Music10 festival happening in Blonay, Switzerland, June 21-July 2.

Performers who are accepted to this program will work intensively and perform new compositions by America’s most talented young composers. Each ensemble will consist of a member of eighth blackbird along with a carefully selected group of young instrumentalists. Concurrently, the instrumentalists will prepare and perform works by the three principal composers, Martin Bresnick, Stephen Hartke and Joel Hoffmann. This repertoire will be performed in a series of concerts throughout the festival in Blonay and surrounding locations.

Blonay is a beautiful village, located between Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and the Swiss Alps. Nearby cities are Montreux and Lausanne. The Hindemith Foundation is a fully-equipped music residence center, whose purpose is to present short-term international festivals and workshops on the highest level.

When we say Blonay is beautiful, what we mean is BEUWWWWWWWWWWWWDIFUL, as in un-bloody-believably-spectacularly-idyllic.

Come and join us for 10 days in our little musical utopia in Swiss paradise! Click here to apply.

Come see my crazy show with the CSO’s own Jenn Gunn, Trembling Air, at Roosevelt’s Ganz Hall.

Here’s the info:

Tim Munro (flutist with Grammy-winning ensemble eighth blackbird) and Jennifer Gunn (piccoloist with the Chicago Symphony) present Trembling Air at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall, February 3, 2010. Flutes sing, speak, growl, wheeze and chirp in this surprising, kaleidoscopic musical patchwork.

Ben Broening’s Trembling Air possesses an ethereal, other-worldly beauty that collides dramatically with Grawemeyer-winner Brett Dean’s virtuosic, hellish Demons. Munro is joined by Chicago Symphony star piccolo player Jennifer Gunn for the hypnotic repetitions of Philip Glass’s Music in Fifths and rolling dark waves of Helena Tulve’s Soaring.

The program also includes the world premiere of Tai-Kuang Chao’s Isolated Dance on a Bench, winner of Roosevelt University’s first flute composition competition, and Grey Light, Early Morning, a haunting piece from the pen of Gerard McBurney (Chicago Symphony’s “Beyond the Score” maestro).

What: Trembling Air

Where: Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Ave., 7th Floor, Chicago (312-341-3780)

When: February 3rd at 7.30pm

Tickets: Free entry

Program: Ben Broening Trembling Air for solo flute (2009, World Premiere)

Ross Edwards Ecstatic Dances for two flutes (1990)

Tai-Kuang Chao Isolated Dance on a Bench for solo flute (2009, WP)

Gerard McBurney Grey Light, Early Morning for alto flute (1992)

Brett Dean Demons for solo flute (2004)

Helena Tulve Soaring for two flutes (2007)

Philip Glass Music in Fifths for two flutes (1969)

For more information: http://ccpa.roosevelt.edu/ccpa-calendar.php

It’s official – we’re doing a crazy/cool benefit with Mario Batali and Paul Kahan at The Publican on March 15th.

For those who attended eighth blackbird’s 2007 benefit with Paul Kahan and Mario Batali at Blackbird, we don’t need to tell you just how special the 2010 event will be. If you are one of our newer fans, or simply couldn’t participate previously, then don’t miss what is sure to be one of the year’s artistic and culinary highlights.

eighth blackbird begins the evening with a short concert at the Packer Schopf Gallery, featuring highlights of our 09-10 touring program and complemented by an exclusive arrangement by Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, performed by eighth blackbird with Chef Batali on guitar. Following this, Chefs Kahan and Batali will present a five-course meal, with wine and beer pairings, at Chef Kahan’s own gastro-pub, The Publican. These celebrated chefs accepted our challenge to base the menu on our musical selections, so both your ears and mouth will be treated with fresh Catch, a few of These Broken Wings, Meanwhile, a bite of Spam and a serving of Still Life with Avalanche.

To buy tickets, visit this website:

For further information, please email benefit@eighthblackbird.com.

WQXR, New York’s classical music station, recently had a week-long celebration of Steve Reich called Maximum Reich. There are audio, video and written interviews with Reich and many other musicians, plenty of sound samples from works through the decades, a series of perspectives by young musicians (like Nadia Sirota and Nico Muhly), and the station broadcast the world premiere performance of Reich’s new Mallet Quartet.

As part of this shebang, I was asked to write a blog entry that dealt with our relationship with Reich, forged during the commissioning of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet. A couple of months ago, I asked the composer for permission to publicly share some emails from our correspondence with him, in the hope that it might shed some light on his working methods. I was surprised that he said yes (and he emailed me back within the hour!), but decided to use them for WQXR’s request.

You can read the entry below, or on WQXR’s comprehensive all-Reich-all-the-time mini-website.

Steve Reich has graciously allowed me to share a few emails from his correspondence with eighth blackbird during the composition and preparation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2008 work Double Sextet. I hope these shed a little light on his creative process. You can also read an interview I did with Steve here.

Working with living composers is, hands down, the best part of my job. Young or old, famous or totally unknown, bright-eyed or curmudgeonly, supportive or critical, it is always an eventful artistic road trip.

It was with excited trepidation that I approached working with Steve. He was by far the most famous composer who’d written for eighth blackbird, and was a boyhood hero of mine. We’d been warned about his uncompromising vision, mostly via second- or third-hand rumors that were some variation of, “He’s really demanding, and will freak out if he isn’t happy with what you’re doing.”

As a successful composer, Steve is lucky in only needing to write one new piece each year, which allows for each work to have a generous, patient gestation period. Below is an email written almost 20 months before Double Sextet‘s world premiere, setting out some of the composer’s initial ideas for the work.

From: Steve Reich
Date: Mon, 3 Jul 2006


I did start work on your piece which I have tentatively called Double Sextet – for obvious reasons. I just got about 4 pages of it begun and need to revise those. It is quite angular and more percussive than my recent works and should be a bit of a wake up for the audience. It’s also immediately involved with short motives and their retrogrades. Haven’t done that before.

As for the doublings, i did assume they were what you say and am not sure which I will be using. For percussion, i am sure both the live sextet and the pre-recorded sextet will each have a vibe and “mini set” of snare and kick drum. Please tell Matt. I have started out with 2 flutes and 2 B♭ clarinets for the live and recorded sextets plus two pianos, two violins and two celli. Nice to hear there’s bass clarinet and viola waiting in the wings. – We’ll see.

Give my greetings to all the musicians.

And thank you once again for your e mail.

All best,


The differences between the composer’s original thoughts and the finished product are interesting. Early in the process, Steve thought it will be “angular and more percussive” than other works, something that’s clearly related to the “mini set of snare and kick drum” he originally envisaged for the score. These instruments don’t appear in the final version, and as a result, the work isn’t more percussive than any of Steve’s other recent pieces. (In fact, the variations movement that provides the beating heart of Double Sextet signals a move for the composer into uncharacteristically lyrical territory). He also says that it’s “involved with short motives and their retrogrades.” Double Sextet, like all of Steve’s compositions, is constructed almost entirely of short motives, but there is no evidence at all of “retrogrades” (in which the tune would be played backwards).

Steve’s interactions with eighth blackbird were different from what we were used to. Once we received a finished composition we typically have very limited contact with the work’s composer before a pre-premiere rehearsal, at which time they offer comments on our performance. This “alone time” for the ensemble enables us to put the piece together into a well-drilled, dramatic, convincing, fully-committed interpretation, without feeling an intimidating warm breath over our collective shoulder.

What set Steve apart was his desire to work with the ensemble throughout the rehearsal process. Although he wasn’t ever actually in the room with us until the day of the premiere, we sent him recordings of ourselves at every step in the process of preparation, from the day of our first rehearsal until the day of the premiere, on which he would offer his comments in detailed, often illuminating emails.

A short note about the piece: For most performances of Double Sextet, eighth blackbird plays live with a recording of ourselves. So in order to perform the work for the first time, we recorded one sextet part, then practice playing the other live sextet with our recording.

Below are two emails, written after he heard our initial pre-recorded sextet rehearsal recordings. This first email deals with the first movement, and all of the numbers are measure numbers in the score.

From: Steve Reich
Date: Wed, 16 Jan 2008


First off: BRAVO! You got it and its going to be great. This based on opening to 122. Now for the details:

At 122 first chord is too short and too loud on second chord. Don’t forget the dash on first chord here and two bars later. Try and even the two chords off. Very good after that until 203 when same sort of thing happens. Too much accent on second chord which is naturally heavier because of bass so give full length to (put in a dash on) first chord. Similarly to 208.

Vibes at 315 – 323 practice by himself and make sure upper voice-melody is heard. Maybe one mallet in right hand two in left or slightly harder mallet on top – whatever. Vibes again at 368. I can hear strings fine but vibes are lost. Its a bit hard playing the clusters, so work on by yourself and then get closer to mic or slightly harder mallets. Vibes at 381 that chord is F, B♭, A♭. (its a rough passage…)

Winds, strings and vibes from 409 – 432 are a bit “blocky.” Try to always have the music “leaning forward” vis a vis the beat and not right on top of it, hammering it. Light and always moving ahead (not rushing) wins the day.

And from there to the end is excellent. For a first rehearsal this is really wonderful!

Best – and BIG thanks,


Why does Steve get so involved in this process? For much of the composer’s early maturity, the Steve Reich Ensemble (including Steve himself as percussionist) was the only group performing his music. They evolved a distinctive-sounding “house style” with its own unique energy. Rather than worshipping at the altar of the score as an exact set of Google Map directions, pieces like Drumming and Music for 18 Musicians were taught, learned, and developed without much recourse to the printed page. In some ways Steve must feel that this intense, collaborative process, and also the energy of the Ensemble’s particular style of playing, have become inseparable from his music, and should be passed down to all ensembles that are encountering a new work for the first time. Interestingly, this can ensure a sort of “legacy” for performances of his music during Steve’s lifetime, but what about well into the future?

The email above contains a typical entreaty to trust the markings on the printed page, but early in the process this sort of comment was difficult to decipher, especially as we didn’t yet speak fluent Steve Reich. How does one accurately perform a “dash” in Steve’s music? Play longer? Give it a stress that isn’t quite an accent? It would take several dances around the Maypole until we found what that meant in practice.

In trying to develop our understanding of Steve’s “house style,” I found his comment about the “blocky”-ness of our playing – where he cajoles the ensemble to giving him more “lightness” and a sense of “leaning forward” – particularly useful.

From: Steve Reich
Date: Wed, 16 Jan 2008


Here we go on mvmnt two.

Opening in piano and vibes ok – a little more flowing maybe. When strings and winds come in at 537 its a bit too “espressivo” – just a bit cooler will do it. Held notes have no crescendo – just evenly held. Think baroque. Also really need more vibes here which will keep one foot in Africa (as well as baroque.) Either closer to mic, play a bit stronger or harder mallets.

At 597 strings & winds please keep that first eighth separate and similarly throughout – don’t run it into following longer note. Single eighths are the punctuation throughout movement and we need them.

664 vibes needs the notes. In general there is a tentative feeling in vibes when it should be an equal partner to piano in volume and feel.

You are all way ahead and should have no problem making dynamite performances.

I’ll send this and take a break before i go through 3rd mvmnt.

Many thanks to all!


This email created heated arguments among the “front row” of eighth blackbird (flute, clarinet, violin, cello). What did Steve mean by comments entreating us to play “a bit cooler” and to “[t]hink baroque”? We liked the aria-like quality of the tune, and really wanted to bring it into the 19th century a little, giving it a little Puccini-esque character. Should we do it with less vibrato? More sustained and straight-tone? Held notes with “no crescendo”? Also, the comment about separated eighth notes took us by surprise, and our first attempts at it sounded very strange to our ears. Shouldn’t those notes be part of the phrase rather than cast adrift?

And those rumors of Steve as an unreasonably hard task-master? Hugely exaggerated. After such an exhaustive, intense process of preparation we were all a little jittery about what the composer might say when he heard us play the piece live. So you can imagine our relief when, at the end of the first complete run of Double Sextet for the composer, his only reaction was, “Wow, fantastic. I really have nothing to say.”

In today’s newspapers, John von Rhein in the Chicago Tribune and Bryant Manning in the Chicago Sun-Times heavily praise 8bb’s Tuesday performance at the Harris Theater.

Von Rhein writes:

Mark DeChiazza’s fluid staging, set on a mostly bare stage hung with light bulbs on ropes, added its own layer of surreal ambiguity. A dancer, Elyssa Dole, interacted with the reciter, soprano Lucy Shelton, and both women interacted with the musicians as they moved around the space, performing the intricate score from memory, as did Shelton. The definitive “Pierrot” reciter of our generation, Shelton nailed her mime gestures as superbly as she nailed the score’s jagged intervals.

Manning, under the complimentary but predictable headline “Eighth blackbird flies high,” writes:

Director Mark DeChiazza’s spare, onstage tableau of constant movement allowed musicians and dancer Elyssa Dole to slither around at will in this surrealistic nightmare akin to a flickering silent film. Ensemble percussionist Matthew Duvall mimed the role of Pierrot with perfect detachment, giving the old Frenchman a Mr. Bean-like demeanor. By designing sets to include only hanging light bulbs, chairs and a ladder, DeChiazza wisely let the drama emerge from Schoenberg’s smoky atonal score. Living up to its title, “Paradoxes and parallels,” this was one of eighth blackbird’s smartest programs yet.

A more mixed review comes from Gerald Fischer in the online blog, Chicago Classical Review:

The New York diva has the measure of this melodrama, and it was marvelous to hear her fierce attack on the German text. She clearly has a real feeling for the dark Expressionistic poetry and the sprechstimme style … All this excess fripperie was completely unnecessary because the performers were uniformly so superb and could have carried the show on the music alone.

Majel Connery on her blog, Consider the Lillies, writes:

I don’t expect someone to literally stage “He stuffs a little parcel / Of fine tobacco, with finesse, / Into Cassander’s shiny skull.” That’s not the point. But do stage something that suggests a logic of its own. Do create a stage language that’s coherent unto itself and do give the people on stage a deep understanding of how to communicate in that language … Unless you convince your actors of the value of what they’re doing, the risk is that they look like so many automata in a series of rotating positions.

Doyle Ambrust has written a piece in this week’s Time Out Chicago about 8bb’s predilection for memorizing crazy music, and about the Harris Theater Pierrot shebang show next week. I particularly love Matt’s comment, “It’s like bashing the notes into our skulls with a two-by-four.” Classy.

Practice makes perfect
Eighth blackbird flies without a safety net: sheet music.

By Doyle Armbrust
original link

Playing Arnold Schoenberg’s 40-minute melodrama Pierrot Lunaire without sheet music seems like a bad dare. But for eighth blackbird, the Herculean task is merely modus operandi—and extremely rare, if not unique, among such groups. “It’s like bashing the notes into our skulls with a two-by-four,” says eighth blackbird violinist-violist Matt Albert. “But the end result is awesome.” Learning Pierrot took 100 hours of group rehearsal, not counting individual practice, plus three weeks of staging.

Memorization has been a revelatory yet daunting practice for Chicago’s indomitable new-music group since its New York debut in 1998, when the sextet staged Fred Lerdahl’s Fantasy Etudes. (The ensemble moved to Chicago in 2000.) “We basically apologized up front at that first performance,” the 35-year-old Albert tells us. “We said it was just a fun experiment.”
The ensemble quickly realized that by keeping the music stands offstage, it could engage in score-enhancing movement. “The audience has one fewer barrier, the stands, between them and us,” Albert explains. “We can make more eye contact. We can hear better. Plus, we know our own parts so much better.”

While it’s beyond a stretch to refer to the 1912 work Pierrot Lunaire as “new music,” many concertgoers still find Schoenberg’s chromaticism and non-narrative poeticism challenging: one of those “barriers” Albert refers to. The descending piano figure wouldn’t be out of place in an early-20th-century art song, and the atonal Sprechstimme (speaking voice)—which guest artist Lucy Shelton will sing on Tuesday 8 at the Harris Theater—informs the audience it’s embarking on an unfamiliar, decidedly gloomy journey.

With lines such as “Dark, black giant moths / Killed the brightness of the sun,” Pierrot is an unmistakable nightmare-scape, even without staging. The imagery of the titular commedia dell’arte clown smoking Turkish tobacco out of a skull, not to mention his beheading by a “gleaming scimitar,” the moon, lends itself to the dramatic.

The eighth blackbird members knew just the person to infuse the score with theatricality: New York choreographer-playwright Mark DeChiazza, who worked as assistant director for the ensemble’s production last year of singing in the dead of night. “My first response to hearing Pierrot was panic,” DeChiazza says in a video interview on eighth blackbird’s website. The anxiety was short-lived, however; DeChiazza made the inspired decision to employ the talents of Metropolitan Opera Ballet dancer Elyssa Dole as a fluttering twin to soprano Shelton and to cast eighth blackbird percussionist Matthew Duvall as the peculiar lead, replete with bow tie and suspenders. The costumes evoke the roaring ’20s, with Duvall in a white suit and the women in flapper dresses, set against the muted tones of the musicians’ outfits.

The dramatic roles of the roaming instrument wielders fluctuate from song to song. One piece is staged as a waltz between Dole and Duvall, with Albert and flutist Tim Munro cutting in as suitors for the dame’s attention. In other tunes, pianist Lisa Kaplan joins Dole in a dance around the piano bench, and cellist Nicholas Photinos escorts Shelton around the stage as she tells a story.

The highly anticipated Chicago premiere reprises the production’s debut at California’s Ojai Music Festival in June. While Pierrot Lunaire no doubt will further eighth blackbird’s reputation for equal parts erudition and panache, the ensemble continues its commitment to casual concertgoers. “The goal of our performances isn’t a specific musical meaning that they have to ‘get,’” Albert stresses. “It’s about an experience that will move them.”

Eighth blackbird presents Pierrot Lunaire at Harris Theater Tuesday 8 at 7:30pm.

© Copyright 2009 Time Out Chicago

Tuesday, December 8th at 7:30 p.m. – Harris Theater
Buy one ticket, get one free with the code “FAN”!

Critics are raving about eighth blackbird’s new staging of Pierrot lunaire:
“The intense interaction of the players and Shelton turned this performance into a genuinely new way of looking at a 20th century musical icon.”
– Los Angeles Times

“Stage animals as well as outstanding chamber players, eighth blackbird perform with a freedom almost unheard of in their technically demanding repertoire. In Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, the musicians were integrated into the production and played their parts from memory – an uncommon delicacy.” – Sunday Telegraph (London)

“Choreographer Mark DeChiazza revitalized Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire in an intriguing new staging, successfully returning the prickly speech-song cycle to its expressionist musical theater roots.” – Musical America

Pierrot remains a creepy, devilishly difficult, outré reflection of a decaying society, even nearly a century after its composition. That’s how this riveting performance played out—in a decadent cabaret setting with a mute Pierrot and a dancer interacting with the amazing Lucy Shelton, whose concept of sprechstimme leaned toward the speech-dominated ideal that Schoenberg asked for in his own recording of the piece.” – American Record Guide

Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire has everything: feverish intensity, gallows humor and touching pathos. In this new production, director Mark DeChiazza uses movement and gesture to connect to the human core of this remarkable work. Dancer Elyssa Dole and soprano Lucy Shelton join the ensemble, and percussionist Matthew Duvall plays the title role!

Click here for more information (including videos) about this production. To buy tickets click here.

Buy one ticket, get one free with the code “FAN”!

Student tickets only $10 with ID at the Harris Theater Box Office! 312-334-7777

Take a break from preparing your dapper Don Draper or sexy Sarah Palin costume and check out this great deal on eighth blackbird’s December 8th Harris Theater concert.

From Friday through Sunday, all tickets for Pierrot lunaire are 30% off!

On December 8, eighth blackbird presents Schoenberg’s dark, creepy masterpiece, a work that wouldn’t be out of place on Halloween night! Haunted by the death-sick moon, Pierrot is preyed upon by giant moths, steals from blood-drenched graveyards and smokes tobacco from a skull.

Don’t miss this opportunity to witness eighth blackbird share the stage with dancer Elyssa Dole and soprano Lucy Shelton in a captivating new production from director Mark DeChiazza that blurs the boundaries between music, dance and theater.

AND, if we sell 100 tickets over this Halloween weekend, everyone who buys a ticket is entered into a drawing for 10 free tickets to eighth blackbird’s March 24th Harris Theater performance of Slide (including entrance into a special invitation-only pre-show event!).

Tell your friends, family, neighbors, enemies and strangers, because if we can sell 100 tickets, you may win!

Click here to get your Pierrot tickets now. Use offer code HALLOWEEN when purchasing.

Click here for more information (including videos) about this production.

What: Pierrot lunaire
Where: Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Drive, Chicago
When: 7.30pm December 8th

Okay, I’ll give in just this once to putting a press release on the blog, mostly because it has lots of information about this fabulous new prize that we are awfully chuffed to have won (ensemble members in the last few days have been randomly breaking into “it’s just so weird and cooooool!” and “that really is kinda amazing…”). You can also go here and here and here for other coverage of the announcement, made at a gala hosted by Bruce Willis. As a lanky, geeky, wimpy kid growing up in Brisbane, Australia, the Die Hard movies were my sort of “little guy,” David v Goliath empowerment movies. This may be as close as I’ll ever get to Die Hard royalty…
eighth blackbird wins the newly-established Meadows Prize from Southern Methodist University
The ensemble plans to curate a new music series in partnership with the Dallas Arts District

eighth blackbird, the Grammy Award-winning new music sextet, has been awarded the new Meadows Prize by Southern Methodist University, one of Texas’s most prestigious academic institutions. Named for philanthropists Algur H. and Virginia Meadows, the prize, which was established in August 2009, is given to “professionals with an emerging international profile” and may be given to as many as four recipients each year.

An SMU press release states:

“The [Meadows] prize includes housing for a one-to-three-month residency in Dallas, transportation expenses, studio/office space and project costs, in addition to a substantial prize/stipend. In return, recipients will be expected to interact in a substantive way with Meadows students and to leave a lasting legacy in Dallas.”

eighth blackbird is committed to nurturing a new generation of artists, and as part of the prize the ensemble will work with music students at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts and other local schools, as well as in the wider community.

The Meadows Prize is also intended to help spark a local, sustainable contemporary and fringe arts scene in Dallas. Its creation coincided with the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center on October 12, an event that marked the completion of one of the world’s largest arts districts and that brings vibrancy to the downtown Dallas area.  As part of this goal, eighth blackbird will curate a new music series in partnership with the Dallas Arts District. Dallas’s new AT&T Performing Arts Center, which opened this week, is the center of a revived arts scene in the downtown area.

“This is a huge honor,” says Tim Munro, eighth blackbird’s flutist. “SMU’s School of the Arts has a strong national reputation with a distinguished faculty, and the AT&T center looks amazing. We can’t wait to get our feet wet in this fascinating project!”

eighth blackbird was nominated for the Meadows Prize by a committee including choreographer Paul Taylor, producer/director James Houghton, composer John Zorn and actor Laura Linney.  The other recipient is CreativeTime, an artist collective and arts consulting group.

eighth blackbird, currently in residence at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School, moves shortly to its recurring residency at the University of Richmond (VA).  The ensemble will also be in residence at Philadelphia’s esteemed Curtis Institute of Music in February. In the near future eighth blackbird plays concerts in Chicago, Louisville, La Jolla, San Diego, Cincinnati and elsewhere.  Details at www.eighthblackbird.com

© 21C Media Group, October 2009

Our Richmond Times-Dispatch review has appeared, and it is by a reviewer I’m unfamiliar with, Angela Lehman-Rios. The title, “Sound surpasses Spam sushi,” is a surprise, as are the opening paragraphs:

Rent a car in Hawaii and drive around until you need a fill-up. When you go in to pay, check out the food case. There it is, between the corn dogs and the chicken fingers: Spam sushi.

What? Greasy sticks of tinned meat product don’t fit your expectations for a roll of rice and nori?

eighth blackbird, or 8bb, combines the appearance of a classical chamber ensemble with recent compositions to create an aural delicacy that expands listeners’ understanding of what music is.

Interesting… As the 8bb marketing blurb writer, this also stuck out to me:

This concert, for example, was marketed as an exploration of “the ways rock music has influenced classical composition in the 21st century.” Practically speaking, this is hogwash. People expecting “rock” or “classical” would have been dazed and confused.

Three of the pieces on the program were directly influenced by rock music, and although I agree that mainstream rock or classical music fans would have been a bit freaked out, to call it “hogwash” is a bit rich. It’s particularly odd to say that “people expecting ‘classical'” would have been confused, as all of the composers represented on the program were trained at classical conservatories and all write in the classical chamber music tradition.

We also received another very positive review from blogger Calvin Sutton.

Last night we played our first University of Richmond concert for season 09/10. How did we do? Here is the ever-perceptive Clarke Bustard’s review posted last night on his Letter V blog. (Apparently a Richmond Times-Dispatch review is on the way. Watch this space…)

Below, my first attempt at “live-tweeting” a concert. (You can follow 8bb on twitter on this page!) All I can say is that I’ll get better with practice!

Definitely sense pre-show jitters – lots of 1st-perf pieces always creates some green room tension! about 18 hours ago from TwitterFon

pre-show stress

Matt albert’s Pre-show product regimen – secret to his success about 17 hours ago from TwitterFon


Tim’s first-half scorecard: Nas A-, Allison B+, sorensen A-.about 16 hours ago from TwitterFon

at talkback Mike compared our concert to a can of Spam: a big variety of unknown substances crammed into a small space – high sodium concert about 14 hours ago from web

good concert overall – weirldy lost my bottom register, but there was some top stuff: ades opening, ballsy turnage. Coupla reviews expected about 14 hours ago from TwitterFon

Managed to mention oral sex, Anna-Nicole Smith and operatic cussin’ in one spoken intro about 14 hours ago from TwitterFon

Post-concert beer (dogfish head yeah!) n iPhoning about 13 hours ago from TwitterFon


Here’s a preview piece on RVA news about our University of Richmond show tonight. I get to show off how little I actually know about popular music, and how much 8bb wants its own “performing version” of the Rock Band game. Imagine it: as we play Boulez Derive a huge screen above our heads charts how many wrong notes, incorrect rhythms and sections of bad ensemble we play. Awesome…

I’ve started Twittering a little madly, and will probably have some problems balancing blog/twitter-time. How I love and hate these wonderful tools of modern technology!