← Back to ,

eighth blackbird with Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner

Apr 30 – May 1, 2013


eighth blackbird
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

“The blackbirds are examples of a new breed of super-musicians.”
—Los Angeles Times

“A polished, personable, (and) routinely dazzling sextet.”
—New York Times

eighth blackbird keeps soaring! Collecting its third Grammy Award in 2012, the group now returns to the MCA to perform with two multifaceted indie superstars, Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly. MCA Stage co-commissioned Dessner’s new work for eighth blackbird, and this concert culminates the MCA’s mid-winter focus on new music. Dessner and Muhly perform with eighth blackbird as well as each other, playing their own music as well as music by composers who have inspired them.

Bryce Dessner is a member of indie rock band The National, cofounder of the contemporary classical ensemble Clogs, and a gifted composer who has worked with the Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can All-Stars, and BAM Next Wave Festival. He is also the creator and artistic director of the acclaimed MusicNOW Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Nico Muhly is an impossibly prodigious composer, performer, arranger, and thinker who has worked with Björk, Philip Glass, and Sufjan Stevens, and has written an opera for the Met and created the film score for The Reader.

Shara Worden, lead singer of My Brightest Diamond, joins the ensemble as a special guest in two songs from her most recent recording, death speaks, by David Lang.  The album also features Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner.

To celebrate the official release of David Lang’s album death speaks, Lang, Dessner, Muhly, and Worden sign CDs after the concert on Wednesday, May 1.

Highlights of these collaborative concerts include Muhly’s Chicago premiere of Doublespeak, composed for the ensemble in honor of Philip Glass’s 75th birthday, and Dessner’s new dark and melodious Murder Ballades, co-commissioned by MCA Chicago.

Also featured is guitarist/composer Steve Mackey’s mournful Grammy-winning song Lonely Motel (revised specifically for these concerts), Tristan Perich’s modern classic qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq, and a new version of David Lang’s ecstatic, non-religious prayer, How to Pray. eighth blackbird pianist Lisa Kaplan performs her New work for piano four hands and the evening culminates with Two Pages, Philip Glass’s spinning and hypnotic work.


Tristan Perich: qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqqq (2009) for three toy pianos and electronics

Nico Muhly: Doublespeak (2012) for piano, violin, upright bass, flute, clarinet, xylophone, percussion

Lisa Kaplan: whirligig (2013) for piano four hands, world premiere

I. off-kilter
II. merry-go-round
III. boogie-woogie

David Lang: how to pray (2002/13) for cello, piano, hammond organ, electric guitar, percussion

David Lang: Songs (you will return and pain changes) from death speaks (2012) for soprano, electric guitar, piano, and sextet


Bryce Dessner: Murder Ballades (2013) for sextet, US premiere

I. Omie Wise
II. Young Emily
III. Dark Holler
IV. Wave the Sea
V. Brushy Fork
VI. Pretty Polly
VII. Tears for Sister Polly

Philip Glass: Two Pages (1968) for sextet, guitar, electric organ

Steve Mackey: Lonely Motel (2008/12) for sextet and electric guitar

Running time: approximately 100 minutes, with intermission


Program Notes

About the artists

Chicago-based eighth blackbird combines the finesse of a string quartet, the energy of a rock band, and the audacity of a storefront theater company. The wind, string, piano, and percussion genre-bending musicians entertain and provoke audiences across the country and around the world. The sextet has produced five acclaimed recordings with Chicago’s Cedille Records and won three Grammy awards. Most recently, their 2012 album Meanwhile won a Grammy award in the chamber music category, and composer Stephen Hartke, who wrote the title piece, won for best contemporary classical composition. In 2008, the ensemble won two Grammy awards for their 2006 recording strange imaginary animals in the small ensemble performance and best chamber music performance category. eighth blackbird holds Ensemble in Residence positions at the University of Richmond and University of Chicago, and in 2012 the group began a three-year, Mellon Foundation-funded term as Ensemble in Residence at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music.

Taking its name from the evocative Wallace Stevens poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (1917), eighth blackbird is composed of players Tim Munro (flute), Michael Maccaferri (clarinet), Yvonne Lam (violin and viola), Nicholas Photino (cello), Matthew Duvall (percussion), and Lisa Kaplan (piano).

More info about eighth blackbird

Artists Up Close

First Night Post-Show Talk
Tue, Apr 30
Peter Taub, Director of Performance Programs, leads a discussion with the artists and audience in the theater, after the performance.