Chicago-based ensemble eighth blackbird will alight

Posted: February 15, 2012

Chicago-based ensemble eighth blackbird will alight at the Curtis Institute of Music for a residency to last at least three years.

Initially funded with a $450,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the sextet's members - who picked up a new Grammy this past weekend - will bring expertise in 20th- and 21st-century instrumental techniques to Curtis students in coachings, side-by-side performances, and world premieres.

The residency, which starts in October and lasts a total of four weeks each school year, grew out of shorter previous visits, including one in which Curtis students performed with the group in Steve Reich's Double Sextet, which eighth blackbird had commissioned and premiered.

In that previous contact, the new-music ensemble found itself rather taken with the old-world conservatory, said eighth blackbird flutist Tim Munro.

"My vision of Curtis was always as this incredibly high-quality but stuffy music school that was steeped in the greatest traditions of classical music that was sending fundamentally narrow and conservative people out into the landscape," said Munro. "But ... they kind of liked having us there. I'm a flute player from Brisbane, Australia, and never could I have imagined that they could have been able to learn anything from me or the group. But they were quite engaged with what we were offering. And that got us thinking about ways in which we could work with these musicians who are almost to a man and woman the next generation of classical music leaders ...."

What are the ways in which Curtis and eighth blackbird - whose members came together in 1996 as Oberlin Conservatory undergraduates - might dovetail?

"The ensemble has always been entirely self-run and we definitely made our own path in the music world," said Munro. "We've offered something new and really tried to sell it, and that's something that I think has been lacking in many music schools - creative programming, bringing other media into performance, and just in general thinking about presentation, concert dress, how to address your audience, and how to bring your audience into a really intimate and moving and intense experience."

The group will also work with Curtis' next composer in residence, as yet unnamed for 2012-13, and on the premiere of new works. An exact number is not set, but between students, faculty, alumni and others, "I wouldn't be surprised if we could see dozens of premieres," said David Ludwig, Curtis' artistic chair of performance studies.

Said Munro:

"There will surely be a gaggle of engaging and provocative events to attend."


Contact music critic Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@phillynews.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/artswatch.

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