Eighth Blackbird: What can groups like this teach us?
February 19, 2011
I was talking yesterday with someone who studied at Oberlin with the members of Eighth Blackbird, and he was recalling some ways that they were innovative right from the beginning: memorizing their music, wearing clothes that weren’t formal but not informal either and using a splash of color on each of their outfits that unified them together, and of course their intensity combined with astounding musicianship also made them stand out. I have yet to see them live but have watched numerous videos online and I’m really taken with them!
I also am impressed by a summer music initiative they take part in each year in Blonay, Switzerland, headed up by composer Joel Hoffman. They invite other composers and some top instrumentalists and the whole thing is a composer/performer exchange for almost two weeks, performing new works, and establishing a fantastic collaborative spirit there that will surely continue past the festival.
I love the idea that as performers and teachers we can land up in a place like this (I’m thrilled that I’ll be attending as a performer this summer), which in my mind is an exciting alternative to traditional masterclasses. It challenges performers to dig deeper into their resources.
There are other chamber groups doing similarly terrific work, like 5th House Ensemble in Chicago and the International Contemporary Ensemble in NY. Look at New Gallery Concert Series–performing in art galleries, bringing in composers to write music based on the artwork and then the chamber ensemble goes at it, with the art work right there bringing performers, composers and artists together in one setting.
I see these groups pushing us in new directions, not only as listeners, but raising expectations, changing expectations as performers. They are also redefining the music profession by creating new opportunities for themselves and colleagues. In many ways these groups are engaging audiences in new ways, employing new strategies and ideas to reach and connect with their audiences and communities.
I’ll be interviewing some of the founders of some of these groups in the next months, including Claire Chase of ICE, Melissa Snoza of 5HE, Jonathan Kuuskoski of NewMuse (and author on our blog), Sarah Bob of the New Gallery Concert Series, and Hilary Abigana of the Fourth Wall. Stay tuned…
Laura Lentz ©2011