There are tons of talented, driven people doing really interesting things right here in our own (big) backyard of Chicago, but not all of them have the resources we do to realize their art. We wanted to help, so we recently started a new initiative that we’re calling the Chicago Artists Workshop. We didn’t have to look hard to find three very different but equally cool artists to kick off this program: Cory Hills, Deidre Huckabay, and Parlour Tapes+. They all have different needs¬†but basically we were ready to provide them with¬†promotional, logistical, and production support; including use of the ensemble‚Äôs rehearsal space, access to a wide array of instruments and audio/video equipment, and use of the organization‚Äôs marketing infrastructure. Plus, it was cool to enter our Studio B space and see a shelf full of Deidre’s stuffed animals.

We had a flurry of activity during the first week of April. ¬†Since Cory is great at working with kids, we helped him set up a performance at Chiaravalle Montessori School, which happens to be across the street from Matthew’s house and where he sends his own children. He also performed at Narloch Piano Studio and Ravinia School.

Both Cory and Deidre had¬†a great performance at Comfort Station – check out the pictures in the gallery to see the stuffed animals in action! It was wonderful to see the fruit of their hard work and to know that we had some hand in helping them. Stay tuned for more news about the Chicago Artists Workshop and for the announcement of next year’s artists.

 

Do you feel like a winner?

We hope so, because Eighth Blackbird’s very own online auction site is up…

…and lemme tell you, ebay’s got nothin’ on us! We have curated a very exclusive collection of experiences and one-of-a-kind items just for you.

Pitchfork, Eaux Claires, The National? We got it.

Shows in Chicago, LA, Portland? You’re going.

Signed manuscript? Find it here.

Check it out – we guarantee there’s something for everyone. We advise you to bid early and bid hard, because you only have until April 30 to get in on the action. And¬†if you don’t wanna play the nail-biting last-minute game, you can always click that beautiful Buy It Now button. Ah, instant gratification!

Wait, what’s that you say? You already have enough travel, culture, and tchotchkes? ¬†You can still¬†donate¬†at any time! Remember, all the auction and donation proceeds go toward Eighth Blackbird’s commissioning and educational efforts, including the inaugural Blackbird Creative Lab happening June 2017. Thanks in advance – we are so grateful to you because none of the work we do is possible without you.

Now go bid!

We are thrilled to announce the 30 fellows that have been selected for the inaugural year of the Blackbird Creative Lab, our new tuition-free summer training program. The Lab’s mission is to inspire the next generation of performers and composers to share in the ensemble‚Äôs vision: to champion a distinctive, dynamic and engaging performance aesthetic.¬†Click here to learn more about The Lab and the¬†uniquely talented group of artists that will take part in this wonderful new initiative!

> Read the NewMusicBox feature

Last night we hosted a little – or at least we thought it would be little – private event for our closest friends and fans. We ended up with over 40 people in attendance, but somehow it still felt intimate. The night was dedicated to non-Eighth Blackbird projects near and dear to our hearts, and we heard some performances of works from those projects. Matthew played a Burtner piece that will be featured on his solo MCA show in a couple weeks, Lisa played Vicky/Vicki by Andy Akiho, which she has been performing on other programs, and Nick played Angelica Negron’s¬†Panorama, which he recorded for his solo album coming out on New Amsterdam very soon. Nathalie, Michael and I performed a movement of David Lang’s¬†Composition as Explanation, and we capped off the evening with a performance of an old favorite,¬†Doublespeak, by Nico Muhly.

We also had some other exciting news¬†for¬†our guests. They received a sneak peek¬†of the 30 fellows, formally announced today, that are coming to the Lab! Nathalie put together a wonderful compilation of the fellows’ reacting to the news of their acceptance, which, after overcoming some technical glitches, we were able to show to our delighted guests. (Why is it that when you test something it works fine, and later, when you need it to work for real, it never does? Is there some kind of scientific law governing this phenomenon?)

We also gave our guests a little preview of what’s on the menu for our first ever online auction. We have some pretty great packages to see¬†The National, Pitchfork Festival, and yours truly in LA and Chicago, some unique artisan items, the signed first page of the score to Nico Muhly’s¬†Doublespeak, and so much more! Get excited, tell your friends, and CLICK HERE to head to the auction site.

Only a short week after getting back from Australia and reuniting with our home city and our home people, we found ourselves in Ann Arbor reuniting with our Reich dream team, last together at Notre Dame at the end of September. This time the program included Sextet, with Matthew and Lisa joining newly Grammy-awarded Third Coast Percussion in a scintillating rendition.

It was all live-streamed on UMS’s website – check out the screen shots from our fans above. There was also a live interview backstage during intermission, during which I basically walked right through and in front of the cameras¬†(sorry about that dufus move, UMS, and whoever was watching online at the time).

But I’m sure that was quickly¬†forgotten as we embarked on the journey that is Music for 18 Musicians, a piece that¬†is equal parts exhilarating and exhausting, heart-pounding and meditative. It¬†was on the very first program I ever played as a member of Eighth Blackbird, also with Third Coast Percussion, at Millennium Park for an audience of, oh, only about 9,500 people. ¬†It was quite a frightening and very public way for me to start my tenure. And while not Millennium Park, Hill Auditorium is no slouch either. I was shocked when I heard that it seats 3500, because it looks much more¬†intimate from the stage. Willie, the Front-of-House Coordinator, told us that they call it the Big House of the Arts (after the Michigan stadium, of course). And with about 2100 in attendance, it seemed a Big House indeed.

 

Painful as it was to leave Melbourne, we quickly set our sights on our impending visit to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, buying tickets online as soon as we landed in Brisbane. We shoved our luggage into our rooms and ran back downstairs to catch an Uber to the sanctuary. It was already past 2pm and koala cuddling ended at 4:30, so there wasn’t a moment to lose. I have never seen Nathalie so excited about¬†anything.¬†I mean, she was close to tears as we entered the car park. So when they told us that koala cuddling tickets (an extra $18 fee) were sold out, I was genuinely expecting Nathalie to chuck a wobbly¬†at the employee. We would be allowed to pet them, but not allowed to hold them. ¬†Apparently too many tourists had already come through and manhandled the poor koalas, who were all humaned out. You’ve never seen such disappointment. I wanted to cry just looking at Nathalie’s face.

We slowly came to terms with our disappointment¬†as we meandered through the sanctuary. All the wonderful and unexpected creatures helped. We were first greeted by a bearded dragon, which we soon realized had compadres lurking in every corner. There were also wild turkeys running about. Our spirits lifted by these encounters, we made a beeline for the koalas. There was a mom and joey enclosure, a bachelor pad enclosure, a kindy koala enclosure, and the cuddling station. Adam made a valiant effort at talking them into letting us hold Buckley, the koala of the day, but Buckley’s handler wasn’t having it. We were allowed up only one at a time to pet Buckley – and only on the lower back portion, please – and his handler kept us to about 30 seconds each. I’ll be honest: I was only there because I have a young son and I have to be able to tell him I pet a koala in Australia. But as soon as I touched Buckley’s soft dense fur, I was charmed. And I’ll be damned if my heart didn’t melt instantly at the sight of koala moms cuddling with their joeys. And Nathalie? I think her voice went up at least two octaves.

After some quality time with the koalas, we moved onto dingoes, tasmanian devils, platypuses, kookaburras, snakes, monitor lizards and emus, among others. Then it was time for a refreshment in the cafe, where we were tortured by a wall of celebrities holding koalas. Nathalie immediately found Janet Jackson, and Adam immediately found Grover (yes, from Sesame Street). John Paul II and the Queen Mother also got koala cuddles. If only we were famous.

After studying other visitors in the kangaroo enclosure feeding the roos out of hand and surviving, we each bought packets of kangaroo food and tried our hand as well. Aside from the unavoidable roo poo, it was an exhilarating experience to walk amongst the kangaroos and feed them right out of your hand. They were extremely docile, but we still kept a safe distance from the moms carrying joeys. For the most part they were pretty small, except for one which was as big as a pony and was patrolling the enclosure from the outside, probably for obvious reasons. We basically closed out the sanctuary hanging out with the kangaroos as the caretakers made noises about locking us in. We made one last pass through the koalas and then had to say goodbye. They escaped our grasp this time, but mark me well: if we are ever back, they will not escape a second time.

 

If cities are like celebrities, Sydney is Beyonce. She’s the Queen Bey, enough said. Constantly¬†in the public eye, she’s impeccable in performance, everyone loves her, everyone wants to see her, everyone wants to take pictures of her.

What about Bey’s little sister Solange? If you don’t know who Solange is, that’s because she’s been flying under the radar this whole time. Solange might once have only been known as Beyonce’s little sister, but the younger, hipper¬†Knowles is now quietly emerging as a performer and creative force in her own right after years churning out hits behind the scenes as a songwriter.

Melbourne is Sydney’s Solange. We love and adore Sydney, but we really wanna hang out and be friends with Melbourne.

Melbourne doesn’t have a flashy harbor with a world-famous opera house and bridge. But it does have a river lined with hipster bars and daring architecture. Beards are oiled and coiffed, hemlines are asymmetrical, socks are colorful and quirky. Sydney is up to its eyeballs in luxury name brands, but Melbourne is where you’ll see someone walking down the street wearing something you’ve never seen before and you can’t help but do a double take because they look so effortlessly cool. Fitzroy, I’m talking to you.

We ¬†logged over 15,000¬†steps exploring Fitzroy. Almost every window display drew us in, and I¬†spent more money on Gertrude Street than I did on food in two weeks. I have no regrets. My sisters are gonna love their gifts, and they’ll be the only ones on their continent with them. (If you’re in the neighborhood, do not miss Design Dispensary, which has an uber-cool¬†selection of curated items from all over the world.) We quenched our significant thirst with a cocktail on the rooftop of Naked for Satan, where we took in 360 degree views of Melbourne. Nathalie had the tasting menu at Saint Crispin one night, and we had dinner at Taxi Kitchen another. It was Matthew’s birthday on our last night in Melbourne, so we gathered at Gin Palace for some Negronis and their famous chicken sandwiches.

I do want to devote some space here to talk about the plumbing fixtures we encountered in Melbourne. Apparently no design element in Melbourne is safe from experimentation. I can’t tell you how many public restrooms I walked into where I didn’t know how to use the faucet. I stood supplicating in front of one faucet, waving my hands in every way I could think of to activate the sensor¬†before realizing that the decorative metal “accent” on the tiled wall was actually the faucet lever. At Gin Palace, water came out of a giant pipe in the ceiling. And then there was the sink-toilet combo. I’ve never seen a sink on top of toilet before. The sensor faucet wasn’t rocket science to operate, but after washing my hands and flushing, the faucet wouldn’t stop running. Thinking I broke it, I backed out of the restroom slowly, wondering if I should confess to the staff. But then Michael, who knows all things, explained to me that the faucet water was filling the toilet tank. Duh.

All I want to do is head back to Fitzroy to storm all the stores that were closed on Sunday and drink every cocktail at the Everleigh and discover more weird faucets. But we leave for Brisbane today, which is sad for my inner shopping addict but probably very good for my wounded wallet. All is not downhill from here, though, because a¬†koala sanctuary awaits us in Brisbane, as well as a reunion with our former flutist Tim Munro’s beloved mum. Stay tuned.

So it’s been almost two weeks since we’ve landed on this big island and we have been steadily picking up and incorporating the lingo. You know, to blend in. The accent is a bit hard to mimic, and¬†words like “no” (which sounds to our American ears like “nawyeurooahooo”) really betray us. But in writing, we’re indistinguishable from native Aussies. Behold:

A great day in an Australian city such as Sydney always begins with a delicious brekkie, and we enjoy some smashed avo toast with poached eggs on top. Usually the sun is bright and reliable in the summer, but we happen upon the one day in Sydney when the harbor is obscured by clouds and a Seattle-like mist enrobes the city. Good thing our hotel is prepared with heaps of brollies. We grab a few and venture out to explore options for a quick cuppa. I’m partial to a long black myself, but flat whites and iced coffees are also very popular.

A trip to the dunny is usually necessary after too much coffee, and the boys look for a place to go for a slash. While the rest of us wait, we check out the tradies, one of whom is a ranga, and debate the appropriateness of their attire. I mean, no hard hats and above-the-knee shorts? Comfy, but definitely against protocol in the states.

No roos to be found in the city, unless kanga bangas at the Coles counts, but Sydney proper doesn’t concern itself with appeasing tourists’ appetites for exotic animals. There are fast ferries to Manly beaches and famous bridges and opera houses to gawk at, the Museum of Contemporary Art and The Rocks Market to visit, window shopping at the QVB, and, of course, concerts for us to play at the City Recital Hall.

Before we know it, it’s time for our arvo coffee, and perhaps a bikkie or two to accompany it. We discuss evening food options. There’s soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung, Aussie burgers at Burger Project, or schnitties and meat pies at the local pub, an embarrassment of choices. Might as well start with cocktails at Opera Bar, where we can further discuss food and gawk at a bona fide reality TV star. After dinner, there will be a requisite trip to the nearest IGA to buy a box of Golden Gaytime. We barely step outside before devouring the whole box standing on the sidewalk next to the didgeridoo busker.

Driving in Australia, or should I say, being a passenger in a car in Australia, is utterly terrifying. Everything about it is wrong. As soon as the car pulls into traffic I’m convinced we will plow head-on into every car. Right turns in particular are heart-stopping. I try not to look but I get motion sickness easily so I have to look out the window. Just as I am getting accustomed to going the wrong way around in roundabouts, the car chucks a yewy and I think I might vomit.

Flying, on the other hand, is a real pleasure in Australia. I can walk on the plane with a full bottle of water brought from the hotel and no one blinks an eye. There’s always food included, even on measly hour-long flights. They board planes simultaneously from front and back*, and luggage comes out by the time you walk to the baggage claim. Watch out for those carousels, though. They spin so fast the bags literally come flying off the belt with the centrifugal force. Retrieving bags from our first domestic flight is reminiscent of the famous chocolates scene from I Love Lucy, only with more yelling and running as we chase our bags down the belt, shielding ourselves from the ones flying off it. Totes awkies.

Australian airlines don’t like cellos, however. Or, more likely, they just don’t like Nick. Our tour manager Michelle has hosted many groups with cellists and swears it has never been a problem. But Nick gets booted off our first flight from Perth to Canberra and has skirmishes with airline agents on every subsequent flight. Basically, Michelle has to crack the shits at someone every time we approach the counter. But once on the plane, everything’s grand.

After a long day, it’s time to relax in our rooms. We stay at a couple different Crowne Plaza hotels, some of which are attached to a casino. Though we are tempted to try our hand at the pokies, we all resist (as far as I know). The beaches are irresistible, however, and Adam is absolutely determined to introduce his toes to every beach he possibly can, no matter what time of day. Good on him. He needs a new cozzie, so¬†Michelle points out a couple of stores where he might find some cute budgie smugglers. I promise him¬†not to post any photos. At least not here…

*I’ve been told this is a Virgin Airlines thing, not an Australian thing.

Glossary:

Arvo = afternoon

Avo = avocado

Bikkie = biscuit

Brekkie = breakfast

Brollies = umbrellas

Budgie smuggler = Speedo

Chuck a yewy = make a U-turn

Cozzie = swimsuit

Crack the shits = get mad, throw a tantrum

Cuppa = cup of coffee or tea

Dunny = toilet

Flat White = basically milk with coffee flavor

Golden Gaytime = an ice cream bar with biscuit crumbles and chocolate coating

Good on him, also, good on ya = good for him, good for you

Iced Coffee = don’t be fooled, this is a milky, sugary treat

Kanga Banga = kangaroo sausage (see picture)

Long Black = espresso with water, but NOT an Americano

Pokies = slot machines

Ranga = redhead, as in ‚Äúorangutan‚ÄĚ

Roos = kangaroos

Schnitties = schnitzel

Totes awkies = totally awkward

Tradies = tradesmen

So, if you tell a Canberran that you think their city is beautiful and that you’re having a great time exploring it, they will undoubtedly look at you askance, trying to ascertain if you’re being sarcastic or if you’re truly uncouth. This is because Canberra, while truly beautiful and friendly to modern human civilization, was a compromise. It’s the half-baby that the government decided to create to appease Melbourne and Sydney, who both felt they deserved capital-city status. And as such, the city was very deliberately planned, which is why it is such a pleasant city to visit. But no, it has no sordid history as a penal colony or seedy gold rush boom town, it doesn’t have victorian buildings, and it sure as hell doesn’t have quokkas. So everyone here has an inferiority complex about it.

On the way here, Nick got booted off the flight at the last minute amidst some kerfuffle with his cello. Nevermind that we bought a seat for the darn thing, “regulations” said it couldn’t be on board. So rather than crack the shits (as they say here), nice Nick just got off the only flight from Perth to Canberra that day. He got rerouted to Melbourne, spent the night, and then finally got into Canberra the next day. Thanks a lot, Qantas!!

We performed in the music building of the Australian National University, which also houses a brewery called the Wig and Pen. Now I don’t know about you, but my conservatory days would have been very different had there been a brewery in the building. ¬†Those Aussies¬†have their priorities straight! We sauntered in after our 7pm performance to enjoy a few rounds of beer and a delicious meat pie or two. We were supposed to meet the US Ambassador there, but, well…TRUMP.¬†

We didn’t have much free time to explore the city, but our wonderful handler Michelle (and I call her a handler because what are we but a bunch of circus animals anyway??) is from Canberra and was game to whiz us around in her big rented van to show us whatever we pointed at. We caught the sunset up on Mount Ainslie, drinking in the gorgeous city lights and pleasing layout of the city, then ate like kings at Chairman & Yip. We chased down some kangaroos, which are as plentiful here as deer (and equally plentiful as roadkill, sadly), and also snuck up to a roadsign to Yass* after dark and posed for a silly picture like a bunch of drunk hooligans. Yes, it was a sign that said “Yass” so we couldn’t¬†not do it. But man, Michelle must really be questioning her job right now.

 

* If you’re scratching your head about “Yass”, go here¬†and here.

 

We just arrived in Perth yesterday, but have been looking forward to seeing quokkas on Rottnest Island for weeks. It’s the only excursion we actually planned and booked ahead of time for our one free day here. (Let me just apologize in advance for the next few posts, which will be replete with pictures of the gorgeous summer we are¬†enjoying down under while our families freeze at home in Chicago. I promise you, we will be working hard as well.)

Wait, what’s a quokka, you ask?

I’m still not sure. It’s a marsupial with the tail of a rat, the body of a miniature kangaroo, and a face that’s cute as all get out. The only place on earth where they live is on Rottnest Island, except for the quokka who recently escaped to Perth on a garbage truck. That little quokka is now in a zoo. They kind of remind me of the Rats of Nimh (this is a deep cut, but we’re best friends forever if you know the reference).¬†See?

The Rats of Nimh were really quokkas

They only live on Rottnest Island, which is accessible by a 45-minute ferry ride. Once on the island, there are no vehicles allowed, so you can rent a bike, book a Segway tour or hoof it to explore, all without worrying about death from cars. We opted to rent bikes, much to my horror because not only was I wearing a dress, but I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I rode a bike. Well, there was that one time a couple years ago on Governor’s Island when I acquiesced to a tandem bike with my husband, but we all know that doesn’t count. The only thing I feared more than the bike was being left behind by everyone, so I took the plunge.

And guess what? It was just like riding a bike. Sort of. ¬†I did need¬†a lot of personal space to feel comfortable, and there were buses and service vehicles that occasionally passed us, which nearly gave me a heart¬†attack. And a mean lady yelled at me (it wasn’t my fault, I swear). We rode until we found a little beach access area, and several quokkas came out of the bushes to greet us. They’re extremely friendly and unafraid of humans, so if we wanted to pet one we could have. In fact, I had to back up to avoid a quokka who was maybe getting a bit too friendly. There are warnings everywhere not to touch or feed them, but the rumor that they carry salmonella was quite enough for me, thank you.

After getting our fill of quokkas, Nathalie and I headed down to the picturesque beach, where she snorkeled a bit and I baked on the beach, having not brought my swimsuit (did I mention it’s really hot here??). ¬†At one point, Nathalie motioned to me from in the water to look at something. When I looked over, I saw a GIANT bird looking for lunch in the water. I missed it at first because I assumed it was a dinghy or some weird inflatable water toy, it was so big. We caught a picture of another one on our way back to the ferry (in the gallery above). If you know what it is, please tweet us!

 

Last week, we had the pleasure of visiting Wake Forest University, where we performed as part of the Secrest Artist Series. We were so pleased to see so many students eager to share in the experience of new music. The Old Gold and Black,¬†Wake Forest University’s student newspaper, recapped our performance, saying, “Eighth Blackbird puts forth the beauty of both individuality as well as unity.”

> Read the full story

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 √ď Lion√°ird. 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 √ď Lion√°ird, 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 РTilburg, Enschede, and Rotterdam Рwhere 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.¬†

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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!