Eighth Blackbird brings an approachable new-music program to the Old Town School | Bleader

Eighth Blackbird brings an approachable new-music program to the Old Town School

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Eighth Blackbird
  • Kevin Yatarola for Lincoln Center
  • Eighth Blackbird
One of the ways Eighth Blackbird has distinguished itself over the years is by flirting with the genre-agnostic outlook of Kronos Quartet: they function as a new music ensemble that sometimes looks beyond its own borders for repertoire. More often than not, however, Eighth Blackbird has played music written by folks best known for their rock affiliations, and tonight they deliver a program at the Old Town School of Folk Music that puts the focus largely on that facet of its work. The concert includes work by Bryce Dessner (the National) and Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) as well as pianist Lisa Kaplan's adaption of the Bon Iver song "Babys." Also on the program are pieces by Timo Andres (a member of American Contemporary Music Ensemble, which has often performed with ambient and new-music folks like Max Richter and Johan Johannsson) and Nico Muhly (a key part of the Icelandic Bedroom Communities collective, in which he's worked with folks like Sam Amidon and Valgeir Sigurdsson). The program also includes Kaplan's driving four-handed composition "Whirligig."

Most of these works have been floating around in the ensemble's repertoire for the last couple of years, and there's no doubt this concert was designed as an accessible introduction to Eighth Blackbird—from the name-recognition factor of the composers, to the sweet clarity of most of the pieces, and down to the venue. In fact, a collection of pieces dubbed "Songs of Love and Loss" was featured by the group as the first half of an MCA concert, mixing the Parry and Bon Iver pieces with flutist Tim Munro's arrangements of compositions by Monteverdi and Gesualdo. Parry's "Duet for Heart and Breath" turned up on his 2014 album Music for Heart and Breath (Deutsche Grammophon), a lovely, meditative collection of pieces without a whole lot of weight—the music was performed by Kronos Quartet and musicians from yMusic, a New York ensemble that routinely blurs the lines between pop and classical aesthetics. Below you can watch a video of the composer, on piano, performing the piece with violist Jonathan Moerschel. Following that is a somewhat irritating promotional clip featuring 8bb playing excerpts from Muhly's Doublespeak. Tonight's concert will be one of the final performances with the group by founding member Munro, who's stepping down this summer—he'll be replaced by Nathalie Joachim of the New York R&B duo Flutronix. Eight Blackbird has served as artists-in-residence at various musical institutions during their career, but next year they’ll fill that roll in a less expected place: the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Today's playlist:

Wes Montgomery, So Much Guitar! (OJC/Riverside)
BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa, Drykkjuvísur Óhljódanna (Helen Scarsdale Agency)
Larry Young, Heaven on Earth (Blue Note, Japan)
Gene Clark, No Other (Elektra/Asylum)
Honest John, Canarie (Rudi)

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