Eighth Blackbird Rocks the Grammys

Chicago’s crack new-classical ensemble picks up its third Grammy, and performs an aggressive David Lang piece for the pre-primetime audience.

Eighth Blackbird
eighth blackbird at the Grammys

 

I wasn’t able to catch the Grammys last night—I went to see Angela Hewitt at the CSO, then out for dinner—and felt more confident in my decision after learning that eighth blackbird, the only artists I had any rooting interest in, weren’t slotted in primetime; they played the online-only pre-telecast at three, when Hewitt was just kicking off Bach’s French Suite No. 6.

But their performance is online now, and it’s awesome. Greg Kot says that My Bloody Valentine vans would “swoon”; the LAT said it “could have been on a Radiohead album” (about right, since Jonny Greenwood is a new-music composer in his own right); I heard Steve Reich in attack mode. The piece was David Lang’s “These Broken Wings”:

David Lang writes: “The three movements of these broken wings concentrate on three different physical and musical challenges. The first movement consists of music that requires incredible stamina and intense concentration. Sad, falling gestures dominate the slow second movement, and I gave the vague but hopefully inspiring instruction that the players should drop things when they are not playing. In the last movement I wanted to make a music that danced and pushed forward, in the hope that it would encourage the musicians to do so as well.”

Here’s another recording from the group. Not sure if it’s the recording or the mixing, but the Grammy version has a lot of low-end, appropriately.

I’ve been listening to Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion (h/t Lee Sandlin), which couldn’t be more different, like early music from the distant future. Warning: listening to it during the depths of winter may encourage your SAD.

Their latest album on Chicago’s Cedille Records (which kindly offers its recordings in the FLAC format), meanwhile, won for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance—their third—and the title piece, by USC prof Stephen Hartke, won for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Cedille, incidentally, just kicked off a weekly show on WFMT.

 

Photograph: @eighthblackbird

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