...These players showed an unremitting intensity in the intricate kinetic landscape and a professionally assured technique in the most demanding situations."
Pretty high praise for a chamber ensemble whose eldest members graduated just two years ago from the Conservatory of Music. Yet that's what The Los Angeles Times music critic wrote about eighth blackbird's April 27 performance of Schönberg's Chamber Symphony. Just the previous day, eighth blackbird had taken top honors--the Coleman-Barstow Award for Woodwinds & Brass--in the 51st Annual Coleman Chamber Ensemble Competition, one of the nation's major competitions. Their lauded performance was part of the Coleman's Winners Concert.
The sextet's present members first came together in 1995 in an ensemble formed a year earlier by Timothy Weiss, professor of wind conducting and director of the Contemporary Music Ensemble. A January 1996 invitation from composer Wendell Logan, professor of jazz studies and Afro-American music, to record his composition Moments for an as-yet unreleased collection was a pivotal moment in eighth blackbird's development, as was their capture of first prize in the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition later that summer.
The group's accomplishments aren't its only memorable attributes. There's the noteworthy name, eighth blackbird, taken from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens's equally resonant poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird": "I know noble accents, And lucid, inescapable rhythms; . . ." There's the uncommon instrumentation--violin, clarinet, cello, flute, piano, and percussion, a grouping known as Pierrot Sextet in reference to Schönberg's Pierrot Lunaire, the first piece to provoke attention to the odd combination. And eighth blackbird's commitment to 20th-century music is steadfast. Always in search of works written for its instrumentation, the sextet has commissioned compositions from Burton Hatheway, Thomas Albert, and Pieter Snapper, and considered arrangements of other pieces as well as of popular songs.
In early spring sextet members learned that the ensemble had been accepted into the University of Cincinnati's Artist Diploma program. They'll each earn an artist diploma in chamber-music performance. Before heading to Cincinnati, they spent May, June, and early July traveling to several music festivals for study and concertizing.
For those Obies who have grown accustomed to a blackbird fix every now and then, and there are many, the group has promised to return to campus often to give concerts. And they're planning a November concert in Chicago, performing works by members of the Chicago Composers' Consortium. Check out their web site for a more complete and detailed schedule of blackbird sightings: members.aol.com/eighthbb/index.html.