Some reviewers of recent concerts by the new-music ensemble Eighth Blackbird have compared them to the Kronos Quartet. Yes, the members of this sextet--graduates of Oberlin and the University of Cincinnati--have a casual collegiate look and wildly eclectic tastes, but a better comparison might be the University of Chicago-affiliated Contemporary Chamber Players. Like the CCP, Eighth Blackbird is an eager advocate of new currents from academia, and the variety of instruments its members play--flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, percussion, and keyboard--allows them to take on a broad repertoire. They've included works by European modernists such as Schoenberg and Stravinsky on their programs, but most of the composers they champion are young Americans--postmodernists such as Aaron Jay Kernis and unknown upstarts such as Pieter Snapper. Their debut CD, Round Nut Tool, showcases, among other works, Thomas Albert's miniatures based on Wallace Stevens's poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," which inspired the ensemble's name. They play with zeal and polish--and with a cohesiveness that sometimes eludes the CCP--and they know how to put the listener at ease even as they tackle the oddest and most intellectually daunting music. It's no surprise that they've won prizes for their playing and adventurous programming. Tonight's program is designed to spotlight some of their contemporaries: with the exception of Frederic Rzewski, the eminence grise of experimentalism and leftist politics, none of the composers is over 30, and no work is more than five years old. Friday, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 773-702-7300 or 773-702-8069.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jeffrey Hornstein.