eighth blackbird’s third consecutive season in residence at Chicago’s downtown Harris Theater is its most ambitious to date. The ensemble gives local premieres of two of its most highly-praised selections, the evening-long Slide by Steve Mackey and Rinde Eckert, which received its world premiere when eighth blackbird curated California’s annual Ojai Music Festival last June; and Arnold Schoenberg’s 1912 numerological masterpiece Pierrot lunaire on December 8, in a production conceived and directed by Mark DeChiazza that was also first shown to audiences at Ojai this summer. DeChiazza is a New York dancer and choreographer with whom the ensemble has forged a strong working relationship. Slide, with music by composer, guitarist, and Princeton professor Steven Mackey and text by actor Rinde Eckert, will be revealed to Chicago audiences on March 24 in its second performance, at which there is much to look forward to, given the critical response to its unveiling at Ojai last June, ranging from the Ventura County Star to the Los Angeles Times.
“Slide has both wit and complexity... . The symbiosis between genres and styles that pervades this year’s densely programmed festival for a multi-tasking generation is the essence of Slide. ... A back story explained in detail in the program was almost required reading for anyone attempting to grasp the total concept, but even without that, it was possible for those with open eyes and ears to relish the wit and complexity of the work.” - Ventura County Star
“They are, as Juilliard Dean Ara Guzelimian said at the festival symposium Friday, ‘stage animals,’ often in motion, enacting their scores as they play them. They are without stylistic allegiances. Minimalism, Post-Minimalism, experimentalism, New Romanticism, old Expressionism, rock, smooth jazz, not-so-smooth jazz – all come easily and naturally. ... They brought to Ojai several of their like-minded, and in some astonishing instances, similarly multi-tasking, multi-talented friends.” - Los Angeles Times
eighth blackbird performs almost all of its extensive repertoire from memory, and the players often move about the stage in an almost choreographed way. The new Pierrot lunaire – presented in a program with works by contemporaries and pupils of Schoenberg – will be no exception. Tim Munro, eighth blackbird’s flutist, says of the ensemble’s newest performance piece:
“Mark DeChiazza uses movement and gesture to connect to the human core of this remarkable work, and the production includes soprano Lucy Shelton, dancer Elyssa Dole, and, in his impressive theatrical debut (!), our percussionist Matthew Duvall as Pierrot. Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire wears its 97 years incredibly lightly and has everything: feverish intensity, gallows humor, and touching pathos.”
As for Slide, its co-creator, Pulitzer Prize-nominated Rinde Eckert, says: “Slide is a rich tapestry of love, human frailty, the desire of control, and eventually the tragic consequences once we have attained it.” In Slide, Eckert plays Renard, an enigmatic psychologist struggling to describe an experiment examining subjects’ reactions to in- and out-of-focus slides. The results reveal that our decisions are based on habits or conventions that make it difficult for us to see clearly. Slide uses the experiment as a metaphor for today’s world, where persuasive images are employed to sell a commercial or political product. The work explores the seduction and manipulation of the American psyche, but also the effect of the experiment on Renard himself, who seems irreversibly changed by the experience. eighth blackbird and Steven Mackey create onstage characters in the story, and projected images play an important role. The goal is an unmediated exploration and expression of sound, text, movement, and image.
eighth blackbird has a Chicago-area schedule of several concerts and master classes. The ensemble performs regularly at Ganz Hall in the Contempo series, and at the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall. Windy City repertoire for this season includes audience favorites such as “Knight, Death, and Devil”, with works inspired by one of Albrecht Dürer’s most famous engravings, composed by Frederic Rzewski, Karim Al-Zande, and Andres Carrizo (Nov 14, Contempo); and Osvaldo Golijov’s Ayre with Dawn Upshaw (Nov 17, UC Mandel). The group has a Music Institute of Chicago residency (Dec 12, Highland Park); another Harris Theater appearance, titled “Where Jazz & Contemporary Music Intersect” (Jan 16); and it makes its debut in suburban Naperville with its wide-ranging program called “Still Life with Avalanche” (Jan 20). On February 13 eighth blackbird gives a lecture/demonstration in Evanston at Northwestern, and on May 14 and 26 the ensemble closes out its extensive Chicago season with a Contempo concert titled “Tomorrow’s Music Today”. Lucky Chicago!
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