We had so much fun last week in North Carolina! Well, full disclosure: we did start out the week in VA with a performance and recording session at Old Dominion University, which was lots of fun. But I also got a speeding ticket, which was not fun (thanks, Sergeant Peacock, you got me fair and square).

Young composers rarely get to have wizened old fogies like us read their music (for better or worse), let alone get a recording out of it, so this was a unique and hopefully valuable encounter. We gave some feedback and opinions about compositional choices, which is always a learning experience – both in what you hear and how you choose to internalize it. The student composers were awesome, and even humored us when we waxed philosophical about what 2/4 time signature really means. I always worry that we’re being too harsh, but then I remember that we’re not doing anyone any favors by sugar-coating what we say.

Then we headed to Winston-Salem. We made a stop at The Pit BBQ in Durham on our way to the hotel, and enjoyed some pretty fantastic ribs, chopped pork and sides. I don’t remember anything else from that night because I slipped into a deep coma soon after we got back in the car.

The next few days were a whirlwind of activity at UNC Greensboro, UNCSA, and a performance at Wake Forest University. We taught some masterclasses, held a few informal lectures and Q&A sessions with students, and were generally impressed and charmed by everyone we met. As it turns out, Nick’s wife Yasuko attended UNCSA as a youngster, but I don’t think she would recognize the school now. The addition of the “U” means university curriculum in addition to a complex of fancy new buildings. We were green with envy over their library, which has sweeping views of Winston-Salem.

After our performance, which was one of the best-attended this season, we headed to a beautiful reception in the home of Ralph Womble, who is a board member of Helen Simoneau Danse, who recently commissioned Nathalie. We ran into a few old friends and unexpected connections. We met the parents of a Chicago colleague, and I ran into best friends of a former colleague from my previous position with the Washington National Opera. Thanks, Ralph, for hosting such a lovely event!

Then it was back to Chicago for almost two days until we headed out to Richmond, where I’m writing this now. Next week to Chattanooga and then…down under for a month!

 

We just spent the last week recording a new album of music by Dan Trueman with guest artist Iarla Ó Lionáird. And while every album is different, there are some things that are necessary for any recording session to be successful. So here is our recipe…

Ingredients:

1 lb mixed nuts (Brazil nuts removed)

1 lb peanuts (hidden in the fridge until mixed nuts are gone)

7 boxes La Croix (assorted flavors)

5 lbs clementines

2 lbs bananas

5 boxes Nut Thins

1 family size Wheat Thins

1 box Jilz Crackerz (paleo)

3 lbs Pink Lady apples

2 lbs baby carrots

1 bag Tate’s Bake Shop ginger zing cookies (gluten-free)

1 bag chocolate chip cookies (gluten-free)

5 bags assorted “healthy” chips

1 bag chili jalapeno popcorn

1 lb dark chocolate covered almonds

3 lbs coffee, ground fresh

1 box Kind bars

4 pack of Siggi’s Yogurt

6 hard boiled eggs

1 container hummus

Directions:

Put perishables and La Croix in communal fridge, and spread the rest of the ingredients onto a counter along with several rolls of paper towels. Brew 12 cups of coffee prior to 10am. Brew another 12 cups at 2pm. Closely monitor amount of La Croix and replenish before it runs out. Make sure that there are Cheddar Nut Thins, or Nathalie might complain. Hide the Wheat Thins from Michael.

Make sure lunch orders are squared away 24 hrs in advance.

Notes:

Know that the chocolate-covered almonds will be the first thing to go, but do not replenish.

Remember to be flexible. Schedules are made to be broken.

Four 10-hr days might simply not be enough for 85 minutes of music, and that’s okay.

Technology is great, but sometimes things need to be turned off and on again.

Even if you think you got a great take, just do another one to be safe.

Don’t beat a dead horse.

Many thanks to Jesse Lewis, producer; Bill Maylone, engineer; Dan Trueman, composer and fiddler; and Iarla Ó Lionáird, vocalist and cheerleader. 

Super special thanks to Mike Sportiello of I.V. Labs, whose days were even longer than ours. He stayed calm amidst our insanity, fixing everything like a magician, and he brews a mean cup of coffee. 

 

The last two nights we played fun, albeit somewhat sinister, concerts at Steppenwolf’s new 1700 Theater. We were joined by the awesome Richie Reed Parry, who wrote Strange Sun Rise, November 2016 for us. He came in the day before, we hashed through the score, he made changes, we played the first concert, he made more changes, we played the second concert. And still more changes will be made before we perform it again.  

Richie regaled us and the audience with the story behind the piece: inspired by Brian Eno’s iconic Music for Airports, it took a turn for the darker side when the election happened. A quiet, beautifully serene landscape just before sunrise morphed into a mashup of images from the openings of Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey with the faces of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Il as the only sources of light. Kinda funny, but also kinda not. 

In the tradition of Richie’s heart and breath pieces, Strange Sun Rise also has everyone playing either to their heartbeats or breaths. We all suited up with our stethoscopes, which required an insane amount of medical tape for the boys (but hey, free chest wax!) and a really good bra for the girls. It’s much less comfortable and much less audible than you might think it would be. One doesn’t hear one’s heartbeat so much as feel it through the vise-like earpiece, which seems like a torture device after a few minutes. But out of this pain is born great beauty. Each time we performed it, I was surprised and sad that it ended so soon. We heard from some audience members that they felt similarly, and could have listened to the piece indefinitely.

Aside from our ears being attacked by stethoscopes, there was another unfortunate casualty. Right before the second performance, Nathalie was putting her piccolo together while chatting with me and Lisa in the dressing room when we heard a thud. Her piccolo had slipped through her fingers and fallen on the floor. It seemed fine to the eye, but when she tried playing it, something was obviously wrong. Michael was called over to help diagnose the problem, but they decided it wasn’t fixable, at least by them. So, Nathalie played the whole concert on flute.  (Not that anyone could tell…)

The piccolo incident couldn’t have happened at a better time (except for never), because that was our last show of 2016. Nathalie’s taking the picc to the flute doctor today, and all will be well. We’re still rehearsing and working away, preparing for a recording the very first week of 2017, but we’ll be hunkered down in our studio until then. 

We wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and a very happy new year!

 

Groeten, iedereen!

We just finished our three-city tour of the Netherlands – Tilburg, Enschede, and Rotterdam – where we premiered The Garden of Iniquitous Creatures by Ned McGowan and reprised Murder Ballades, both commissions by De Doelen in Rotterdam. 

Can we talk about what a great city Rotterdam is? Jaw-dropping (if a bit weird) architecture, great museums and shopping and food, and an adventurous audience. A woman we spoke to said breathlessly that people are calling Rotterdam the new Berlin. High praise, indeed. The weather leaves something to be desired; although it doesn’t get quite as cold as Chicago does, it’s rainy, windy, and grey. But you win some, you lose some.

We used Rotterdam as our home base and did run-outs to Tilburg, a very picturesque small Dutch town with a gorgeous hall decked out in neon lights, and Enschede, a name we have yet to pronounce correctly. Our last concert was at De Doelen in Rotterdam, which meant that we had the whole morning and early afternoon to explore the city. Of course, that was the day the wind and rain decided to thwart even the most determined tourist (me). Walking into the wind resulted in going backwards, so after about an hour and a half of battling the elements, I gave up and cowered in my hotel room until call time. But I did get a chance to explore the Markthal, which is even more fantastic and awe-inspiring in person than I thought it would be. I ate myself silly and bought more goodies to stash in my carryon bag for the flight home. 

Next time, I’ve got the Kunsthal and Boijmans and Kijk Kubus in my crosshairs. And I’ll be wearing a poncho.

cubs-win

The Cubs are the World Series Champions. Just let that sink in for a second.

I only watch baseball because my husband is a fan. This usually means that I’m sitting on the couch reading the New York Times or playing  Candy Crush (yes, I’m still playing that) while he paces and yells at the TV. But last night I was glued to the TV, twisting my hotel sheets into a knot of agony, looking at my phone only to furiously text with my husband about the game. I thought I was going to die, like, seven times. 

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-8-26-26-am

Because how could you NOT care about this game, Cubs fan or not? When the Cubs were down 3-1 in the series, I thought all was lost. My husband put my son to sleep in a baseball onesie the night of Game 5, and that’s when they made a comeback. And if there’s any way to beat a curse, it’s with superstition. So you’d better be sure we stuffed him into that same unwashed onesie the next game night, which they won, and, of course, the final game night. They didn’t win easily, despite apparently taking control of the game early, but win they did. You’re welcome, Cubs fans. (That onesie is getting mounted into a shadow-box frame when I get home. Unwashed.)

So now our beloved hometown, lovable losers for over 100 years, will have to adjust to being the winners. I hope no one dies from the shock. We’re in Richmond until Sunday, so we’ll probably miss the victory parade, but I’m sure the celebration will continue for weeks on end. And the story, as far as my future Cubs fan son is concerned, will be that he’s the reason they won. 

It was a historic week: The Arts Club turned 100, we were on TV and radio, and the Cubs made the World Series. 

Let’s unpack that. For the Arts Club centennial celebration, they commissioned a piece for us by our old friend David Lang. Inspired by the tradition of artist lectures given at the Arts Club over the past century, David chose a lecture by Gertrude Stein, Composition as Explanation, and “musicalized” it. The result is currently seven movements, four for all six of us, three for subsets, in which we speak or sing text from Stein’s lecture. It is by varying degrees serious, funny and touchingly beautiful.  We gave a preview performance at the gala celebration, and then during the open house the next day, we performed the first four movements twice as a set and the other three movements we sprinkled around the building in between other artist lectures. 

The TV and radio appearances were promotional for the event. Still, it’s not every day we’re on Chicago Tonight. Michael, Nathalie and I performed the Lang movements for our subset, and we got to experience the magic of the small screen. (See it here.) I finally figured out how teleprompters work! (Hint: there are mirrors involved.) But, since we didn’t have a use for them, they just projected giant screens of our own faces back at us, which was more than a little distracting. Oh, and it was freezing cold in the studio. Like, teeth-chattering, finger-numbing, instrument-cracking cold. As I was told by the makeup artist as she dabbed my nose, I should be happy because otherwise I’d be an oily, sweaty mess on TV. 

I thought being on the radio a couple days later would be easy peasy, given that we were now TV veterans. At least it would be warmer, and no one cares if we’re sweaty or oily. But there were other surprises. While we knew it would be live, we didn’t realize that WGN broadcasts live onto the street, and the studio is a glass fishbowl. So there were people hanging out, taking pictures, running for their buses home, and one guy who just stood right outside for twenty minutes, staring at me and leisurely eating a can of soup. (It was Progresso, if you must know.) 

And last but certainly not least, our very own Chicago Cubs shut out the Dodgers 5-0 and are going to battle the Indians in the World Series! If you know anything about baseball, which I don’t, you know this is a Big Deal. The Cubs have one of the most exciting teams in history (just watch Baez for guaranteed athletic entertainment), but also one of the most enduring curses. As it turns out, the Indians have their own curse (as well as pretty much every other baseball team with a history of losing). It’s going to be an epic Battle of the Curses. You can’t live in Chicago and not feel the buzz of excitement mixed with the apprehension of superstition. I really want to trash-talk the Indians and make grand predictions, but even I know enough about baseball not to say anything remotely jinx-able. So I’ll just stick with #gocubsgo!

musicalamericalogo_300x300Drum roll please….and the Ensemble of the Year award goes to…Eighth Blackbird!  We are so proud to have been named Ensemble of the Year for 2017 by Musical America!  Additional award winners include composer Andrew Norman, conductor Susanna Mälkki, pianist Yuja Wang and vocalist Eric Owens. This award adds to the incredible accolades we’ve enjoyed throughout our 20th anniversary year.

Earlier this month, we received Chamber Music America’s first-ever Visionary Award, and that’s after winning our fourth Grammy Award and the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.  When you’re on a roll, it’s great to share the wealth by giving back, which is why we’ve decided to invest in an ambitious new initiative for the next generation:  the Blackbird Creative Lab.  The Lab, an annual tuition-free two-week intensive for emerging artists, will launch this summer, June 12-24, 2017, in Ojai, California.  Applications open on November 15.  We cannot wait to foster the next generation of musical innovators!

> More info on the Blackbird Creative Lab

cma-logo-blue-300pxWe are so proud to announce that Eighth Blackbird has been named the first ever recipient of Chamber Music America’s Visionary Award! The newly minted award was created to recognize chamber music professionals who have led the field in creative thinking, and will be officially presented at the Chamber Music America conference on January 14, 2017 in New York City. Big thanks to CMA for the honor, and to all of you for supporting our work through the years! 

> Read the full story

FinalMCABlogPic_300x300It’s hard to believe that our season-long residency at the MCA is coming to a close. We’ve truly loved inviting the public into our creative process and presenting concerts and education events throughout the year, and will miss all of the wonderful interactions and music we were able to share. We had a chance to recount our top 10 favorite residency on the MCA’s blog (though there were so many to choose from).  Thanks to all who came to visit us during the year, and to the MCA for a truly memorable season.

> Read the blog post

ChicagoTribuneLogo_300x300After a fun evening at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Tuesdays on the Terrace series, we are excited for our last concert of the 2015-16 season with Matt Ulery at The Hideout.  The Chicago Tribune gave a nice shoutout for the concert, highlighting our ongoing relationship with the Chicago bassist and composer, and saying “classical musicians who feel comfortable and sound persuasive in jazz rhythm are an endangered species, making the Ulery/Blackbird collaboration something to be cherished.” 

> Read the full story

bb graphicWe had so much fun at our 20th Anniversary Benefit and Bash at Thalia Hall on May 9th, 2016, and we hope you did too! For those who are reminiscing or for those who couldn’t make it, here’s a glimpse at the fun times we had that night. The event honored our longtime board member Sarah Solotaroff Mirkin and fabulous Chicago funder, Prince Charitable Trusts. We couldn’t have done it without our Co-Chairs, Steve and Yayoi Everett, Angel Ysaguirre and Bob Webb, and our Honorary Chair Peter Taub. Special thanks to CH Distillery and our table purchasers for their sponsorship of this event and to Dan Trueman and Iarla Ó’Lionáird for gracing us with their musical presence.

Photos by Elliot Mandel.

TexasPerformingArtsLogo_300x300This past fall, we had the great pleasure of performing with Bryce Dessner and Will Oldham at the University of Texas in Austin’s McCullough Theater, presented by Texas Performing Arts.  After the show, we had a great Q & A session with the audience, and the audio has recently been made available online!  Take a listen to learn more about how we met Bryce and Will, Bryce’s process in composing Murder Ballades and some highlights from the show.

> Listen to the Post-Concert Talk

BlurtMagazineLogo_300x300For those of you who missed out on all of the Big Ears Festival fun, Blurt Magazine gives a pretty thorough recap of many of the festival’s featured events.  Included in the mix was our Tennessee Theater concert with Will Oldham, and in particular, our collective performance of Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together.  The article details the piece’s emotionally charged historical context and states that “people were shocked by the strength of the work and the performance. And everyone was thankful for Eighth Blackbird’s championing of it.

> Read the full story

O Ca-na-da!!

More specifically, beautiful and temperate Vancouver. We spent a lovely Saturday there enjoying heavenly Beard Papa’s cream puffs before our performance and devilshly naughty poutine afterwards. We played in the very lovely Orpheum Annex, where over a hundred people actually decided to come hear us instead of the Vancouver Symphony or Evita, which were both playing at the same time. Thank you, Vancouverites! There was also a couple who drove 400-some miles from Portland just to see us – they might win the prize for longest distance driven by non-relatives to see an Eighth Blackbird show.

After the performance, Nick and Michael gave in to temptation and picked up poutine on the way back to the hotel, which is all the more amazing because Nick was slated to run a half-marathon the next day. While Nathalie and I waited patiently for them to receive their fix, we were getting our own unintentional fix from the street outside. We looked at each other and mused if we’d be back to the poutinerie for the “wow size” in about an hour. In case you didn’t know, weed shops are legal in Vancouver, and it seems everyone is taking advantage of it, at least on a Saturday night in the entertainment district.

There were a million things to see and do that we didn’t get to, but hopefully we’ll be back again soon with some more free time to enjoy all that this fantastic city has to offer.