Since forming in 1996, Chicago's Eighth Blackbird have both preserved and innovated the tradition of modern-classical chamber performance. In addition to performing a century's worth of standard repertoire for their instrumentation, the sextet regularly perform and commission work from composers such as Steve Reich, Jennifer Higdon, Frederic Rzewski, and John Luther Adams. As more contemporary classical composers are splitting their time between commissions and rock bands—such as Glenn Kotche of Wilco and Bryce Dessner of The National—one might see the contemporary chamber ensemble taking on a certain rockstar quality as well. Eighth Blackbird certainly display that vitality both at the festival and in the concert hall. But they do not lose energy when slowing down, creating space, and heeding to soft dynamics and subtle shifts in sound.
Eighth Blackbird will be performing works primarily from this decade, beginning with a folk-inspired suite by Dessner. It will be particularly interesting to see how the ensemble tackles Ligeti's Etudes, a few books of intensely virtuosic solo piano pieces. Another interesting arrangement worth noting is the adaptation of David Lang's Wed, commissioned by the American Conservatory Theatre for Kronos Quartet. —Emili Earhart