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Eighth Blackbird

Chicago, IL            

Eighth Blackbird moves music forward through innovative performance, advocacy for music by living composers, and its legacy of guiding an emerging generation of musicians.

Eighth Blackbird, hailed as “one of the smartest, most dynamic ensembles on the planet” (Chicago Tribune), began in 1996 as a group of six entrepreneurial Oberlin Conservatory students and continues today under the leadership of founding members Lisa Kaplan (executive director) and Matthew Duvall (artistic director).

Eighth Blackbird has won four Grammy Awards for Best Small Ensemble/Chamber Music Performance over its 23-year history and has become “a brand-name defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality” (Detroit Free Press). It has commissioned and premiered hundreds of works by established and emerging composers, including Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet and works by Andy Akiho, Bryce Dessner, Michael Gordon, Jennifer Higdon, Amy Beth Kirsten, David Lang, David T. Little, Nico Muhly, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, Julia Wolfe, and Pamela Z. Through performances in its Chicago home base and at venues across the U.S. and around the world, Eighth Blackbird has brought innovative presentations of works by living composers to tens of thousands of music lovers.

The ensemble’s extensive recording history, primarily with Chicago’s Cedille Records, encompasses more than a dozen acclaimed albums. Its most recent release on 37d03d/Secretly Canadian, 2019’s When We Are Inhuman, is a collaboration with The National’s Bryce Dessner and Will Oldham (aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) that features new arrangements by Lisa Kaplan, who also co-produced the album with Dessner. Singing in the Dead of Night, written for Eighth Blackbird by Michael Gordon and Pulitzer Prize winners David Lang and Julia Wolfe, will be released on Cedille Records on June 12, 2020. Other collaborations with some of today’s most well-regarded artists include heralded performers such as Dawn Upshaw and Jeremy Denk, seminal composers such as Philip Glass and Nico Muhly, and genre-fluid composers and performers Dessner, Oldham, Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, My Brightest Diamond frontwoman Shara Nova, and Iarla Ó Lionáird of The Gloaming.

Eighth Blackbird’s many honors include winning the 1998 Concert Artists Guild Competition; pioneering a year-long residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art—Chicago in 2016, during which the ensemble served as a living installation with open rehearsals, performances, guest artists, and public talks; receiving the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions and Chamber Music America’s inaugural Visionary Award; and being named Musical America’s 2017 Ensemble of the Year.

The members of Eighth Blackbird value their roles as educators and mentors. The ensemble was music director of the 2009 Ojai Music Festival, has held residencies at the Curtis Institute of Music and the University of Chicago, and serves as ensemble-in-residence at the University of Richmond. In 2017 and 2018, Eighth Blackbird led the Blackbird Creative Laboratory, an two-week summer workshop for performers and composers in Ojai, California. During the 2018–19 season, some of the Lab’s 60 alumni presented regional events and concerts across the U.S. and in Australia with members of Eighth Blackbird. In the 2019–2020 season, Eighth Blackbird performs works by Lab alumni Fjóla Evans, Nina Shekhar, and Viet Cuong and has commissioned a new work for sextet /U.S. Navy Band by Cuong, a major video installation by Xuan, and a concerto by Kinds of Kings.

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.

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learn to fly by david lang; Live from Here with Chris Thile 2019

Excerpt from singing in the dead of night, written in 2008 for Eighth Blackbird by Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe. Album to be released June 12, 2020 on Cedille Records. January, 2019. Symphony Center, Chicago.

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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.

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