group’s last album won Grammy for “Best Chamber Music Performance”
eighth blackbird’s much-anticipated new recording of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet will be released by Nonesuch on September 14. Described by the composer as “one of [his] best works,” Double Sextet (2007) was commissioned by and written for eighth blackbird – “the straight-A students of the contemporary scene” (Washington Post) – who gave the work its world premiere in 2008. It won Reich the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and features prominently in eighth blackbird’s programming; after a recent performance, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns observed, “Double Sextet is…among the finest pieces of our time. … Music should induce ecstasy. Both the piece and the performing musicians succeeded on that front – to say the least.” The new CD is the group’s first recording since strange imaginary animals, whose two Grammys include the award for Best Chamber Music Performance (2008).
Commissioned by and written for eighth blackbird, Double Sextet is scored for two identical sextets, each comprising flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone, and piano. On the new CD eighth blackbird plays against its own pre-taped recording, the way Reich originally conceived the work, and he pronounces the finished result “a sensational recording.”
The Pulitzer committee described Double Sextet as “a major work that displays an ability to channel an initial burst of energy into a large-scale musical event, built with masterful control and consistently intriguing to the ear.” By juxtaposing live and taped musicians, it recalls several of Reich’s compositions in the “Counterpoint” series, as well as his ensemble pieces Different Trains and Triple Quartet. The composer explains: “It’s the idea of writing basically unison canons – the same timbre playing against itself, so that when they intertwine, you don’t hear the individual voice; you hear the composite. Now, if you have several composites going on at the same time, you really get to an interesting situation, and that’s what’s going on in Double Sextet.”
For eighth blackbird, as flutist Tim Munro explained soon after the Pulitzer Prize was awarded, “the piece is a skillful, imaginative and engaging distillation of Reich’s work over the past 40 years, featuring funky riffs, soulful lyricism, and playful banter. The adrenalin rush we get performing this piece is very intense, and it leaves us wired for the whole night. It’s certainly as close as I’ll ever get to being a rock star.” He added, “We’re not surprised by the award, given the overwhelmingly positive reception with which the piece has been received around the world.”