Upcoming Eighth Blackbird Performances

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Source: Eighth Blackbird.


Eighth Blackbird kicks off the season (Aug. 12–13) with four sets at the Eaux Claires Festival, founded by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National) in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. For the first set, the ‘birds team up with indie-classical touring group, yMusic, to perform Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet. Commissioned by Eighth Blackbird, Double Sextet flaunted the ensemble’s prowess in double time for the 2008 world premiere, featuring a live performance by the members of Eighth Blackbird against a recording of themselves. For this show, yMusic joins the ‘birds in a fully live 12-person performance of this intricate 22-minute masterpiece.

The ‘birds bring to the Festival more fresh music written just for them—Bryce Dessner’s Murder Ballades (from the 2015 Grammy Award-winning album, Filament) and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang’s learn to fly from these broken wings (2008)—along with Frederic Rzewski’s iconic Coming Together, a touchstone among classical music’s independently-minded set. Will Oldham aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy, who toured with the ‘birds in 2015-16, stays on for this and several other shows this season, performing the spoken role in Coming Together and several of his own original songs.


Eighth Blackbird teams up with another sextet, this time members of the San Francisco Symphony, to perform Steve Reich’s Double Sextet (Sep. 9–11) as part of the Symphony’s week-long celebration of the composer’s 80th birthday. For this show, six members of the San Francisco Symphony join the ‘birds in another fully live 12-person interpretation of the masterwork.

Elsewhere, Eighth Blackbird contributes to the international celebrations of Reich’s 80th birthday with performances of the landmark work Music for 18 Musicians. For this, the ‘birds team up with Chicago comrades Third Coast Percussion at Notre Dame University (Sep. 30) and the University of Michigan (Mar. 18).


Central to any Eighth Blackbird season is the development of new work. In 2016-17, the ‘birds bring three new pieces to life, performing world premieres by Holly Harrison, Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang, and Ned McGowan.

David Lang’s Composition as Explanation, commissioned by the Arts Club of Chicago in celebration of its 100th anniversary, premieres there (Oct. 22). Writes Lang, “Composition as Explanation is a musicalization of Gertrude Stein’s 1926 lecture of the same name. A love letter both in repetition and plain language, the work is part concert, part installation and part performance art, using music, speech, singing, movement and lighting to transform the text into a carnival of language.”

Last season, Eighth Blackbird released two albums, Filament (Sep. 2015) and Hand Eye (Apr. 2016), to unanimous praise. Hybrid programs of selected music from those albums anchor the group’s domestic and international tours in 2016-17. Filament, which landed on numerous Best of 2015 lists, also landed the ‘birds’ fourth GRAMMY Award for Best Chamber Ensemble Performance. The album centers around a live recording of Philip Glass’s Two Pages with world premiere recordings of works by Bryce Dessner (Murder Ballades) and Nico Muhly (Doublespeak) alongside two remixes by Son Lux (Ryan Lott). Hand Eye, a “diverse, eclectic and colorful” (The New York Times) concert-length suite by starry young composer sextet Sleeping Giant, brings each composer’s personality into play: wild rambunctiousness (Andrew Norman), driving tunes (Ted Hearne), fragile lyricism (Christopher Cerrone), flickering virtuosity (Timo Andres), atmospheric beauty (Jacob Cooper), and minimalism-tinged athleticism (Robert Honstein). Each composer has written a different section of Hand Eye, for a collection of six pieces catalyzed by each of the six members of Eighth Blackbird.

For tour dates/locations/select repertoire see “2016-17 Schedule At A Glance” below.


The ‘birds fly to great lengths to bring their engaging style and impeccable precision to fans, with performances in Paris, France, multiple cities in The Netherlands, and numerous venues all over Australia. The group tours Filament and Hand Eye abroad with special additions in various locations.

In Paris, the group first plays the Paris Philharmonie (Sep. 25), joined by Aaron & Bryce Dessner, Katia & Marielle Labèque, and Justin Vernon for a program titled “Invisible Bridge.” The next stop is the Mona Bismarck American Center (Sep. 26), with a hybrid Filament and Hand Eye program, also featuring works by Tansy Davies, David Lang, and Alex Mills. The Dutch tour includes performances in Tilburg (Nov. 18) and Rotterdam (Nov. 20), featuring the world premiere performances of Ned McGowan’s new untitled work, alongside pieces from Filament, Hand Eye, and David Lang. In Australia, the ‘birds hit nine cities (Feb 21—Mar. 9) with the third and final world premiere of the season, a new untitled piece by Holly Harrison, alongside works from Filament and Hand Eye.


Eighth Blackbird enjoys its twelfth year as Ensemble-in-Residence at the University of Richmond (Virginia) with several weeks on campus, working individually and collectively with students and performing concerts, master classes, and workshops. The 2016—17 dates include Sep. 19—23, Oct. 24—Nov. 6, Jan. 30—Feb 3, Mar. 27—31. The ‘birds bring Will Oldham aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy to Richmond for a program featuring some of his original songs alongside Dessner’s Murder Ballades, Lang’s learn to fly, and Rzewski’s Coming Together.


The season wraps in May with a mini-tour of the program featuring Will Oldham, with works by Dessner, Rzewski, and himself (Portland, OR, May 3; Seattle, WA, May 4; Durham, NC, May 6).