. Interchanging Idioms: eighth blackbird helps launch new CD label and new music festival this winter

Saturday, December 4, 2010

eighth blackbird helps launch new CD label and new music festival this winter

“eighth blackbird play like musicians possessed” — BBC Music

The ultimate ambassador for new music, eighth blackbird has become the go-to ensemble for living composers at the top of their game. This winter, the group issues its second recording of the season to feature a new commission from a recent Pulitzer Prize-winner: September saw eighth blackbird’s Nonesuch release of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, winner of last year’s Pulitzer, and in the new year the sextet helps launch the Atlanta Symphony’s brand new CD label – ASO Media – with On a Wire, a concerto by this year’s Pulitzer Prize-winner, Jennifer Higdon. Both commissions – like a wealth of other important new works – were written for and premiered by eighth blackbird. The Grammy Award-winning sextet is moreover the first choice of new-music festivals looking for inspired and visionary curators. Following its success at California’s Ojai Music Festival, eighth blackbird has now been invited to curate and perform at the “Tune-In” festival at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory in February. Meanwhile the group’s intensive touring schedule continues apace; besides performing On a Wire with the Toronto, Vermont, and Akron Symphonies, eighth blackbird looks forward to recitals in venues including the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art and Carnegie’s Zankel Hall.

eighth blackbird’s recording of Higdon’s On a Wire is centerpiece of first ASO Media CD (Feb 22)

One of the most prolific and frequently performed American composers alive today, Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) is having a momentous year; in February her Percussion Concerto was awarded the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition and two months later she won the Pulitzer Prize for her Violin Concerto; as the New York Times observed, she has become “a hot commodity.” With the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Robert Spano, eighth blackbird gave her new concerto, On a Wire, its world premiere last season. The work impressed the San Francisco Chronicle as an “exuberantly beautiful and inventive group concerto which left the audience exhilarated,” and the group’s performance, as the Mercury News bore witness, was “dispatched with dazzling flair,” making it “hard to imagine another sextet playing it with such energy and precision.”

It is this premiere performance that headlines the first release – due out on February 22, 2011 – on the Atlanta Symphony’s new CD label, ASO Media. The orchestra has already amassed an impressive 27 Grammy Awards in its 32-year recording history, so the new label promises to make its mark – not least with eighth blackbird’s contribution on this first, major release. Although On a Wire marks Higdon’s first concerto for eighth blackbird, it is not the first piece she has written for the sextet. Two previous commissions are critic- and crowd-pleasers: strange imaginary animals, the album that won the group two Grammy Awards, features the premiere recording of her piece Zaka (2003), which was also nominated for a Grammy, and Zango Bandango is a popular eighth blackbird encore.

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