Long synonymous with creative programming, eighth blackbird headlines its 2010-11 season with the launch of “PowerFUL/LESS”: two contrasting yet equally compelling programs that present the cases for and against Stravinsky’s incendiary claim that “music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all.” The sextet’s hometown audiences in Chicago will be the first to have the chance to hear both programs, which juxtapose the music of Corigliano, Rzewski, and John Luther Adams in “PowerFUL” (Jan 22) with works by Bach and Reich in “PowerLESS” (Feb 5), at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). This being the fourth consecutive season that eighth blackbird presents a special series in its hometown, the concerts will be preceded by a live preview performance and discussion on Chicago’s classical station, WFMT, on January 17.
The “PowerFUL” program on January 22 is inspired by a quote by the novelist Chinua Achebe – “Art for art’s sake is just another piece of deodorized dogshit” – written as a scathing rebuttal to Stravinsky’s notorious assertion. It confronts listeners with passionate musical responses to political issues – the prison system, war, and the environment – by three very different American composers. For his intense musical grenade Coming Together (1972), Frederic Rzewski chose a prescient text by Sam Melville, a political prisoner who was shortly to die in the violent Attica prison riot, while John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man (2000/09) is an affecting and controversial setting of war-soaked song lyrics by Bob Dylan. As when eighth blackbird recently gave the U.S. premiere of the latter’s sextet arrangement in Virginia, Mr. Tambourine Man will feature soprano Katie Calcamuggio, Syracuse Opera’s “Artist of the Year” 2010. A more contemplative piece – The Light Within (2007) by John Luther Adams, a staunch naturalist and recent winner of the 2010 Nemmers Prize – rounds out the program.