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Eighth Blackbird with Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner 

When: Tue., April 30, 7:30 p.m. and Wed., May 1, 7:30 p.m. 2013
Price: $28, $22 for MCA members, $10 for students
Chicago’s Eighth Blackbird won its third Grammy this year: 2012’s Meanwhile (Cedille) took the award for Best Small Ensemble Performance. The album, like these concerts, demonstrates the group’s knack for presenting challenging new music in accessible ways. Though 8BB shy away from the cutting edge, they’re one of the few groups since the Kronos Quartet to routinely bring such broad attention to contemporary composers. This week’s program is defined by the influence of the great Philip Glass, and it concludes with his early additive masterpiece Two Pages (1968), in which a single electric organ line, interwoven with a cycling piano figure, expands and contracts in seemingly endless permutations for 18 hypnotizing minutes; 8BB plays this classic of the minimalist canon in an arrangement for eight musicians. Most of the other piece owe a debt to Two Pages. The swirling, ringing layers of Tristan Perich’s “Qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq” (2009), created by three toy pianos and three-channel one-bit tones, sound a like an ice cream truck gone haywire; and David Lang’s “How to Pray” (2002/’13) uses a martial, numbingly repetitive two-chord foundation for its lyrical, mournful cello lines. Nico Muhly's beautifully restless, rippling “Doublespeak” (2012) was written for Eighth Blackbird to perform at Glass’s 75th birthday celebration last year, and gets its Chicago debut here. Also on the program are the final, fluttering, delicate part of Steven Mackey’s Lonely Motel and two pieces I haven’t heard: “Whirligig,” a new work for piano for four hands by 8BB pianist Lisa Kaplan, and “Murder Ballades” by guitarist Bryce Dessner of the National. For these concerts the group will be joined by Muhly and Dessner, who’ll play piano and guitar, respectively, on several pieces. Shara Worden, lead singer of My Brightest Diamond, will appear as well, singing two songs that she also performs on David Lang’s brand-new album, Death Speaks. —Peter Margasak

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