I made my way up to Zankel Hall last night for a pair of new works written for and played by the excellent Chicago new music ensemble eighth blackbird. The sextet, founded at Oberlin in 1996, has commissioned more than sixty works for their unusual setup of violin, cello, piano, flute, clarinet and percussion. And, they're starting to take off: earlier this year, their Strange Imaginary Animals won the Grammy for Best Chamber Music album.
Last night's program only validated eighth blackbird's place in the new music firmament. Steve Reich's Double Sextet had the group playing with a recording of themselves, matching their entrances with perfect synchronicity. The rhythmic, repeating music - played in one continuous stretch - sounded similar to much of Reich's recent output, which is hardly a disappointment.
They displayed their more theatrical side in singing in the dead of night: a collaboration between Bang on a Can co-founders David Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe and the theater director Susan Marshall. In Gordon's section, the light of the dark, clarinetist Michael Maccafferi clutched a pile of pipes and pots, slowly letting them drop to the ground. In Wolfe's singing in the dead of night, pianist Lisa Kaplan dumped autumn leaves on a folding table, then lay down on top of it. Lang's these broken wings, which was split into three parts, had just the right mix of energy and restraint, building to an ecstatic climax that recalled the best of John Adams.
Throughout, more than a few audience members burst out in laughter, not all of which felt intentional. But, there's something to be said for music as entertainment, and singing in the dead of night surely achieved that. (More pics after the jump.)