Counterstream Radio
Inspect the unexpected
Media on Demand
Browse Music and Interviews

Eighth Blackbird

Chicago, IL            

“One of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet” (Chicago Tribune), Eighth Blackbird began in 1996 as a group of six entrepreneurial Oberlin Conservatory students and quickly became “a brand-name defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality” (Detroit Free Press). Over the course of two decades, Eighth Blackbird (originally “eighth blackbird”) has presented nearly 600 distinct programs in Chicago, nationally, and internationally, reaching tens of thousands. The sextet has commissioned and premiered hundreds of works by dozens of composers both established and emerging. Its long-term relationship with Chicago’s Cedille Records has produced six acclaimed recordings and four Grammy Awards: for strange imaginary animals (2008), Lonely Motel: Music from Slide (2011) Meanwhile (2013), and Filament (2015).

Recent national tours have taken the ‘birds to Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and Lincoln Center. Internationally, Eighth Blackbird has performed in dozens of locations across Europe, Asia, and Latin America, and returns to Australia and the Netherlands during the 2016–17 season. The group holds ongoing residencies at the University of Chicago and the University of Richmond, and recently completed a three-year residency at Curtis Institute of Music. In addition, Eighth Blackbird brings its forward-thinking pedagogical style to short-term educational residencies at dozens of leading musical institutions nationwide, including the Juilliard School, the Eastman School of Music, New England Conservatory, and countless others.

During the 2015–16 season, Eighth Blackbird serves as resident artists for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s year­long Annual Audience Engagement Artist Residency. The selection of Eighth Blackbird by the MCA for this position represents several firsts—in the fourth year of the residency, Eighth Blackbird is the first Chicago artist to be named to the position, the first performing artist, and the first ensemble selected for the prestigious post.

In recent projects, Eighth Blackbird has sought out collaborations with composers and performers who defy the persistent distinction between classical and non­classical music: its current programs feature works by The National’s Bryce Dessner, Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Perry, and an arrangement of a tune by Bon Iver. Last season, Eighth Blackbird performed alongside Wilco’s drummer Glenn Kotche at Chicago’s Millennium Park, and with front­woman for My Brightest Diamond Shara Worden at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Bassist­bandleader Matt Ulery’s In the Ivory, released last fall and featuring Eighth Blackbird on every track, was named one of Chicago Tribune’s “Best Jazz Albums of 2014.” To these collaborations, Eighth Blackbird brings the rigor and flair for which the ensemble is well known in classical music circles and beyond. More than 100 collaborations with Eighth Blackbird have produced new works.

Eighth Blackbird’s twentieth anniversary season is already off to an auspicious start. In February 2016, the sextet claimed its fourth Grammy Award for Filament, which centers on a live recording of Philip Glass’s early masterpiece, Two Pages. The album includes music by Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and Son Lux, whose remixes gather sounds from the others’ compositions, stringing together the musical “filament” of the album.

Days after the 2016 Grammy Awards ceremony, Eighth Blackbird accepted the 2016 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. The award has been presented annually since 2006 to organizations across the country and around the world that demonstrate exceptional creativity and effectiveness. This year’s 14 recipients are drawn exclusively from Chicago’s arts and culture community in order to strengthen the city’s vibrant cultural life and underscore the Foundation’s commitment to its hometown. Eighth Blackbird will use its $400,000 MacArthur Award to build its cash reserve, complete a strategic plan, and upgrade its infrastructure.

At every turn, Eighth Blackbird exhibits unquestioned quality, pervasive innovation, an unparalleled work ethic, and bold openness. The ensemble’s genuine informality complements certified rigor, its seriousness matches an immediate emotional availability. In every performance, creative collaboration, and educational opportunity, Eighth Blackbird brings these values to bear on the fast-changing field, charting the course of contemporary classical music and amplifying the resonance of new music in the culture at large.

Pretty Polly

Created by Nathaniel Murphy (monsterssound.com). Music from Murder Ballades by Bryce Dessner, performed by eighth blackbird on GRAMMY Award–winning album Filament (2015), available from Cedille Records.

Like this? Login or register to make a playlist of your favorites pieces.

Filament (excerpts)

Filament (2015, Cedille Records) offers first recordings of Bryce Dessner’s Murder Ballades, a fresh and surprisingly upbeat take on a macabre genre of folk music; Nico Muhly’s Doublespeak, an homage to Glass and the insistent, propulsive repetitions of classic minimalism; and short pieces by Son Lux, To Love and This is my Line,” creative remixes of sounds from other tracks on the CD. Dessner, on guitar, and Muhly, on organ, join eighth blackbird for Glass’s Two Pages, recorded live-in-concert at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Like this? Login or register to make a playlist of your favorites pieces.

By-By Huey (excerpt) by Ted Hearne from Hand Eye

Eighth Blackbird released its newest album, Hand Eye, in April 2016 on Cedille Records. For this project, the ‘birds joined forces with Sleeping Giant, six young American composers “rapidly gaining notice for their daring innovations, stylistic range and acute attention to instrumental nuance” (WQXR Radio). The result is an album of world-premiere recordings of works written for the sextet and inspired by stunning pieces of contemporary art.

Like this? Login or register to make a playlist of your favorites pieces.