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Eight Things to Know about Eighth Blackbird

Mixed instrumental sextet Eighth Blackbird has been at the vanguard of a new generation of music and musicians since they joined forces in 1996. Winners of four Grammy Awards for Best Small Ensemble/Chamber Music Performance, the ensemble shows no signs of slowing down. They’ll perform at Sanders Theatre on February 8 in a program of new and established works, including pieces they’ve commissioned.

Here are 8 things you might not know about this adventurous ensemble:

1. Hello my name is…

Eighth Blackbird takes their name from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. They even dedicated the title of their second album, “Thirteen Ways,” released in 2003 to the poem. The stanza reads:

I know noble accents / And lucid, inescapable rhythms; / But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved / In what I know.

2. Strings and then some…

You don’t see many ensembles with the unique instrumentation Eighth Blackbird has. The mixed sextet is almost like a miniature orchestra, with winds, strings, percussion, and piano represented. The flexibility of the super-group allows them to perform a wide range of compositions, or arrange existing pieces for their own players!

3. Chairs? No thank you.

They just can’t sit still! Eighth Blackbird stands as much as possible during their performances, unless their instrument doesn’t allow it. They’ve even worked with choreographers on their stage movements.

4. Obies 4ever.

Eighth Blackbird was originally formed at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, while the members were participating in the school’s Contemporary Music Ensemble. Four of the founding members still perform in the ensemble today!

5. Eyes up!

They perform from memory as much as possible—it’s one of their musical calling cards.

6. They work with Pulitzer Prize winners.

One of the pieces they commissioned won a Pulitzer Prize! Steve Reich’s commissioned work, Double Sextet, won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2009. It can either be performed with two sextets, or with a live sextet and a pre-recorded tape of the same ensemble.

7. They’re natural educators.

Eighth Blackbird’s mission—moving music forward through innovative performance, advocating for new music by living composers, and creating a legacy of guiding an emerging generation of musicians—has led them to start the Blackbird Creative Laboratory in 2017. The tuition-free, two-week summer workshop and performance festival serves to inspire the next generation of performers and composers to share in the ensemble’s excitement about contemporary music.

8. Celebrity Series audiences may recognize their music!

Some Celebrity Series audience members will remember the Boston debut of the L.A. Dance Project, headed by choreographer Benjamin Millepied. The dancers performed to a recorded version of Eighth Blackbird playing Bryce Dessner’s Murder Ballades from their Grammy-winning album, Filament. Dessner digs into the darker side of American folk music, inspired by lurid details of actual murders. Now you’ll have the chance to hear the piece live by the original commissioners!


Want to join us for the performance? Reserve your spot today!

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