Launched in 1996 as a twinkle in the eyes of six entrepreneurial Oberlin Conservatory undergraduates, this Chicago-based super-group has earned its status as “a brand-name, defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality, .known for performing from memory, employing choreography and collaborations with theater artists, lighting designers and even puppetry artists” (Detroit Free Press).
Over the course of two decades, Eighth Blackbird has commissioned and premiered hundreds of works by dozens of composers including David Lang, David T. Little, Steven Mackey, Missy Mazzoli, and Steve Reich, whose commissioned work, Double Sextet, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize (2009). A long-term relationship with Chicago’s Cedille Records has produced seven acclaimed recordings (most recently, Hand Eye) and four impressive GRAMMY Awards for Best Small Ensemble/Chamber Music Performance: for strange imaginary animals (2008), Lonely Motel: Music from Slide (2011), Meanwhile (2012), and Filament (2015).
Eighth Blackbird kicked off its 20th anniversary auspiciously in 2016, quickly garnering its fourth GRAMMY Award as well as the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Anniversary celebrations continue throughout the 2016-17 season. The group tours hybrid programs from its two most recent and broadly-acclaimed albums: Filament (2015), the most recent GRAMMY-winner, centred 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 – and Hand Eye, a “diverse, eclectic and colorful” (New York Times) concert-length suite that pairs Eighth Blackbird with the starry young composer sextet Sleeping Giant (Timo Andres, Andrew Norman, Christopher Cerrone, Jacob Cooper, Ted Hearne, Robert Honstein).
Beyond the album tours, highlights of the 2016-17 season include keystone performances as part of Steve Reich’s 80th birthday celebrations (in collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony and beyond), a debut performance on Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner’s (The National) Eaux Claires festival, a fresh round of raucous shows with “Appalachian post-punk solipsist” (The Wanderer) Will Oldham aka Bonnie Prince Billy, and world premieres by Holly Harrison, Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang, and Ned McGowan. The 20th anniversary also brings significant expansion of the group’s international terrain, with debuts in Paris (Paris Philharmonie, Mona Bismarck), through multiple cities in Amsterdam, and through multiple cities in Australia.
Eighth Blackbird’s mission – to move music forward through innovative performance, advocacy for new music by living composers, and a legacy of guiding an emerging generation of musicians – extends beyond recording and touring to curation and education. The ensemble served as Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival (2009), enjoyed a three year residency at the Curtis Institute of Music, and holds ongoing Ensemble-in- Residence positions at the University of Richmond and the University of Chicago. The 2015-16 season featured a lively, pioneering residency at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, serving as a living installation with open rehearsals, performances, and public talks.
Eighth Blackbird’s members hail from the Great Lakes, Keystone, Golden, Empire and Bay states. The name “Eighth Blackbird” derives from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’s evocative, aphoristic poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1917).