(The Music)

Eighth Blackbird

(Articles & Program Notes)
Published – 23.02.2017
(Writing)

US contemporary music supergroup, Eighth Blackbird, is about to embark on its first Australian tour thanks to Musica Viva Australia. Megan Steller takes a closer look at what’s in store.

Eighth Blackbird is not your common or garden chamber ensemble. In fact, they’re more likely to be compared to a rock band than a classical music group. There’s something that grabs you immediately about their vibe; it’s that ineffable “x-factor”, or so says The New York Times. Made up of six performers from Chicago, Eighth Blackbird has been the ensemble moving and shaking the world of modern classical music for over twenty years. In their first ever Australian tour for Musica Viva, they bring their fierce technique and rock-star swagger to concert halls across the country in late February, arriving in Adelaide in March to perform as part of the Adelaide Festival.

Fresh out of a pioneering residency at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, Eighth Blackbird’s program features works by some of the most exciting modern composers from across America, including indie-pop legend Bryce Dessner, the composer and guitarist best known for his work as a member of The National. They will also premiere a brand new work from Sydney-based composer Holly Harrison, inspired by the madcap nonsense poems of Lewis Carroll. Harrison’s Lobster Tales & Turtle Soup draws on an eclectic multitude of musical genres including rock, jazz and hip hop, to create a made-to-measure new work perfectly matched to Eighth Blackbird’s particular brand of cutting-edge performance. The multiple Grammy Award-winning ensemble, who have been hailed as one of “the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet” (Chicago Tribune), are living proof of the rich possibilities (and enduring strength) of classical music, uniting the most hardcore lovers of pop and rock music with the most ardent traditionalists.

Later in the year, Musica Viva will continue its celebration of Australian composers with a newly commissioned work by Adelaide-based composer Jakub Jankowski, for the vibrant piano and cello duo of Nicolas Altstaedt and Aleksandar Madzar. A cellist himself, Jankowski’s work has been supported in part by the Adelaide Commissioning Circle - a network committed to supporting the work of young Australian composers. Set amongst chamber favourites spanning Brahms to Britten, Jankowski’s new piece brings us firmly into the present day and shows off the duo’s range and flexibility. Also on the menu in 2017, British period instrument masters, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, will perform classical hits, but not how you know them. Using ancient performance techniques largely forgotten by classical musicians today, they fuse historical authenticity with music making of the highest international standard.

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