When: Sat., Jan. 22, 7:30 p.m. and Sat., Feb. 5, 7:30 & 10 p.m. 2011
A couple of weeks ago, Grammy-winning sextet Eighth Blackbird presented a program at the MCA called Powerful, comprising works loaded with political content—from John Corigliano's Mr. Tambourine Man (a series of new settings for Bob Dylan lyrics) to Frederic Rzewski's Coming Together (a response to the 1971 riots at Attica). Now the ensemble returns to the museum to present a flip-side program, Powerless, which focuses on pieces that shun meaning and external reference, instead aspiring to pure musical pleasure. Steve Reich's landmark 1976 composition Music for 18 Musicians—a title that couldn't be more neutral—makes an apt centerpiece. Reich became fascinated with African polyrhythms while studying them in Ghana in the early 70s, and this meticulously organized epic pairs them with equally minimalist harmonic material that's likewise engrossing and perfectly constructed. The work is built around 11 chords, each with its own dedicated movement; they convey a wide range of emotion by shifting from major to minor and precisely varying the patterns of relentless rhythmic pulses. Music for 18 Musicians is one of the masterpieces of the minimalist canon, and careful listening reveals seemingly infinite detail—individual melodic and rhythmic elements constantly evolve, even as the ensemble's total output maintains a soothing, mesmerizing cohesion. The concert opens with the Chaconne from Bach's Partita in D Minor, originally for solo violin, newly arranged for 19 musicians by Eighth Blackbird violinist and violist Matt Albert. Tonight the ensemble is joined by a raft of guests, including Third Coast Percussion; the Meehan/Perkins Duo (founding and former members of the acclaimed So Percussion); vocalists Nina Heebink, Susan Nelson, Kirsten Hedegaard, and Amy Conn; clarinetist Sunshine Simmons; and pianists Amy Briggs and Adam Marks.