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Eighth Blackbird
Written by Richard Cotter   
Sunday, 26 February 2017 15:53

Eighth BlackbirdEighth Blackbird send you to musical seventh heaven with their Musica Viva set which includes the world premiere performance of home grown composer Holly Harrison.

Named from a Wallace Stevens poem that talks about lucid, inescapable rhythms, Eighth Blackbird is a sizzling sextet originally hailing from Ohio celebrating twenty-one years performing new works that defy easy classification. True to say, there’s no pigeon-holing the Eighth Blackbird.

The program for the Musica Viva Tour combines pieces they have worked on in recent seasons with music from two of their recent recordings, one of which, Filament, won them their fourth Grammy.

The set kicks off with Doublespeak by Nico Muhly, written to celebrate Philip Glass’ seventy-fifth birthday which includes an excerpt from Glass’ Music in Twelve Parts. Doublespeak delivers the perfect “curtain raiser” as the strings, winds and percussion merge and meld into a dreamy melody.

From there the band moves into a seven suite half hour of Murder Ballades by Bryce Dessner, a heavily folk influenced piece incorporating classic murder ballads. This is an all instruments blazing aural passion play with violinist Yvonne Lam and cellist Nicholas Photinos bringing the obvious fiddle tune antecedents to thrilling surprise, subtle wind notes from flautist Nathalie Joachim and clarinettist Michael J Maccaferri, and eyeballing rambunctiousness between pianist Adam Marks and percussionist Matthew Duvall.

After interval, Holly Harrison’s Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup gets the second act off to a fun filled funk fugue fuelled by the nonsense literature of Lewis Carroll. The nonsensical number is multi jointed by joyous juxtaposition of jazz, rock and blues and a whimsical vocal refrain. This piece was specially commissioned for Musica Viva with support from Geoff Stearn and the Hildegard Project.

Tonally tougher terrain is traversed in Ted Hearne’s By-By Huey inspired by Robert Arneson’s portrait of Black Panther assassin, Tyrone ‘Double R’ Robinson. Not so much a murder ballad as a muted and muzzled memorial to aggressive self-destruction.

The finale is provided by Timo Andres’ Checkered Shade, a symphonic storm of superb instrumentation.

You may have heard Eighth Blackbird broadcast live last Saturday afternoon on ABC FM, but seeing them perform involves a thrilling theatrical dimension that elevates the listening pleasure.

Musica Viva Australia
Eighth Blackbird

City Recital Hall
27 Feb 2017

Melbourne Recital Centre
28 Feb & 4 Mar 2017

Newcastle Conservatorium of Music
2 Mar 2017

Queensland Conservatorium
7 Mar 2017

Adelaide Town Hall
9 Mar 2017


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