Eighth Blackbird | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Eighth Blackbird 

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Based at the University of Chicago, the Contemporary Chamber Players have been championing new music for 38 years. These days the core of the ensemble's fluid lineup is two groups with established identities of their own: the Pacifica Quartet and Eighth Blackbird, a young sextet of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion. For the CCP's season opener this weekend, Eighth Blackbird will perform under its own name, directed by Indiana University professor Carmen Helena Tellez. All four works on the program were composed over the last six years especially for Eighth Blackbird--a testament to the group's well-deserved reputation for curiosity, talent, and commitment. Pocket Symphony, by leftist old-timer Frederic Rzewski, seems like a throwback to the American avant-garde of the 60s, with references to early-20th-century classical literature (Shostakovich, Stravinsky) jostling against more experimental influences (Cage, Varese); each of its six movements highlights a single instrument, and the music is dotted with growls, cackles, and in one instance an alarming imitation of a car crash. Four young Yale graduates who call themselves the Minimum Security Composers Collective--and whose backgrounds range from conservatory classical to funk, jazz, and musical theater--have contributed a movie-preview-style "trailer" that samples a longer piece by each member; the four works, conceived of as a unit, are laced with cross-references, and Eighth Blackbird will premiere each in its entirety during the 2002-'03 season. Sampling also figures significantly in Oberlin composer Randolph Coleman's "Portals...Where Birds Fly Still (Dig.it VI)," but in this case it's of the electronic variety: live instrumental and vocal fragments overlap with digitally manipulated "vernacular musical material." And Thomas Albert's Thirteen Ways Suite (inspired by Wallace Stevens's poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," which also gave Eighth Blackbird its name) employs idioms that, according to the composer, range from Paul McCartney to Schoenberg. Conductor Tellez, though older by a generation, is cut from the same cloth as the musicians--an affinity that should make for an exciting collaboration. Saturday, January 19, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 773-702-8068. The Minimum Security trailer and Pocket Symphony also appear on an Eighth Blackbird program to be performed next Saturday, January 26, at 7:30 PM, in Northwestern University's Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 1977 South Campus Dr., Evanston; 847-467-4000 or 847-491-5441.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jennifer Girard.

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