There was such a thickness of anxiety in the air, one could have cut it like bread. At least, that’s how it felt for those who saw the “eighth blackbird” sextet perform on Oct. 1 in Kilbourn Hall.
Although poorly attended by both UR and Eastman students, those of us who were there could feel a presence, the presence of a monster. It was like an insurmountable force that could conjure up the spirits of our deceased musical patriarchs and rouse them from their eternal slumber.
I am thankful to say I was there to witness it, the all-encompassing voice of our own artful classical music screaming out from its dormant captivity, “I’m still here goddamn it, and I’m not leaving any time soon!”
As the first piece of the evening, “Petroushkates”, neared the final few bars, the entire audience let out an almost synchronized sigh of relief and all traces of thickness in the air vanished, leaving only pure euphony and energy.
I admit that EB, which formed in Oberlin, Ohio, isn’t the first or the only new music group to go around making a name for themselves, and there are certainly many established names on their curriculum vitae, including Torke, Crumb and Glass. However, EB remains separate from the rest of the flock for many reasons.
First of all, as a chamber ensemble, they take the rare form of a “Pierrot” ensemble, that is, instrumentation based on that of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire.” The six performers played with fervor as they juggled between “found objects,” such as rocks and trash cans, in addition to the core ensemble of flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, cello and some creative doubling on piccolo, alto flute, bass clarinet, and viola.
Needless to say they are not only a spirited ensemble, but also an extremely focused and tight group comprised of very fine musicians. To add to every-thing else, they move around the stage while performing the music from memory.
Secondly, they played a very interesting and exciting program featuring a wide variety of new music. They played engaging new music from Eastman’s own Dennis DeSantis along with music by Roshanne Etezady as part of a commission with a group of Yale-graduated composers known as the Minimum Security Composers Collective.
They also performed Rzewski’s “Pocket Symphony,” a work in symphonic form that plays off of the idea of a symphony. With this piece on the program, in addition to Joan Tower’s composition based upon Stravinsky’s ubiquitous ballet-score to Petrushka, EB presented a kind of homage to classical music.
Lastly, the group utilizes its youthful look, modern sound and some fresh humor in combination with artistic photography and a wealth of other marketing-savvy resources to appeal to younger audiences. Although some “traditional musicians” might think this last attribute is far less important than the others, one can be sure that this is how EB came to be hailed as “ambassadors of new music.”
This is also a large focus of the programs in Eastman’s Institute for Music Leadership, known as ALP.
“It rocked,” senior Sara Shumway said, “I thought it was really fun.” Chappell Kingsland, organist and composer, agreed. “[They] played with the spirit of a rock band.” So what can we expect for the future of EB? Live at Budokan? Opening band for Dave Matthews? It seems that only time may tell, but I think the future of classical music looks a lot brighter then it did before.
After the concert I was privileged to speak with the EB cellist, Nicholas Photinos. When I asked him what advice he would give to musicians looking to make a career for themselves in the 21th century, he answered, “Be committed. Find people you like working with and don’t take yourselves too seriously. Also, don’t forget to have fun. It should always be a commitment, but never a burden.”
So if you missed the concert, check out www.eighthbird.com, get your ensemble or band together, get focused and get ready to rock.
Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.