Classically Speaking

Eighth Blackbird brings atonal nirvana to Texas Performing Arts with residency

Eighth Blackbird brings atonal nirvana to Texas Performing Arts with residency

Austin Photo Set: News_joelle_Eighth Blackbird residency_jan 2013_2
Eighth Blackbird  Courtesy of Eighth Blackbird
Austin Photo Set: News_joelle_Eighth Blackbird residency_jan 2013_1
Eighth Blackbird  Courtesy of Eighth Blackbird
Austin Photo Set: News_joelle_Eighth Blackbird residency_jan 2013_3
Eighth Blackbird  Courtesy of Eighth Blackbird
Austin Photo Set: News_joelle_Eighth Blackbird residency_jan 2013_2
Austin Photo Set: News_joelle_Eighth Blackbird residency_jan 2013_1
Austin Photo Set: News_joelle_Eighth Blackbird residency_jan 2013_3

On Monday, February 4, the walls of McCullough Theatre are going to be shattered by sprechstimme.

Coming off of the success of its second Grammy award for 2012's Steve Mackey’s Lonely Motel: Music from Slide, rockstar contemporary classical chamber ensemble, Eighth Blackbird, is blessing the glorious city of Austin with a 10-day residency, courtesy of the Texas Performing Arts’ classical music initiative, Fusebox Festival and the Butler School of Music.

“We will be all over the map: playing, talking, teaching, running about town like chickens with no heads,” says Eighth Blackbird flutist Tim Munro. “Which is fine by us, because we are all huge fans of the city and its amazing cultural life.”

The residency is book-ended by two very different — but very sexy — concerts. The first show on Monday, January 28, Shifted During Flight is as Tim describes, “a rambunctious, wildly diverse grab-bag of all that modern classical music has to offer: influences from indie rock, Bulgarian folk music, French Impressionism, minimalism and even mathematics.”

The show will feature works by very contemporary composers Nico Muhly, Philip Glass, Tom Johnson, Aaron Jay Kernis, Derek Bermel, Gyorgy Ligeti and Andy Akiho.

The second concert on Monday, February 4 is kind of a big deal. Perhaps the biggest of deals. Eighth Blackbird is a chamber ensemble comprised of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion and piano. Such an ensemble is commonly called a Pierrot ensemble, an instrumentation which was popularized by Arnold Schoenberg’s seminal atonal song cycle, Pierrot Lunaire. Well folks, this year marks the 100 anniversary of Pierrot Lunaire, and what better way to celebrate than with a performance of the piece by the premiere Pierrot ensemble (Eighth Blackbird), featuring soprano Lucy Shelton and dancer Kristin Clotfelter?

“Our fully-staged, totally-memorized production of Schoenberg's Pierrot takes as its inspiration the cabaret-tinged world of 1910-ish Berlin," says Tim. "Freed from our music stands, we are free to take roles in the drama, which makes for a pretty unique musical/theatrical experience.”

Since the two concerts represent the bookends of "contemporary classical music" (young composers of the present versus an early 20th century masterpiece), I asked Tim what he thought were some key differences/similarities between where composers are now and where Schoenberg was then.

He answered, “Young composers today draw from thousands of musical traditions, everything from 14th century Italian music to early rap to the Beach Boys, and new music today reflects that insane patchwork quilt of influences. In contrast, I imagine that western European composers of Schoenberg's generation felt themselves to be part of a single musical tradition: Mozart-Beethoven-Schubert-Wagner-Schoenberg." 

“What's interesting,” Tim continued, “is that despite the strong sense of one strong musical inheritance, Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire is an amazingly diverse work, including the sounds of waltz, cabaret, early jazz, 17th century music, 19th century melodrama...”

The pairing of Pierrot with cabaret standards by Schoenberg’s contemporaries Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht on February 4 will surely emphasize these diverse influences.

“The last time I saw Lucy Shelton sing Pierrot Lunaire, she did it from memory, and there was even some staging,” says Butler School of Music professor of composition, Dan Welcher, reminiscing about the upcoming Eighth Blackbird performance. 

“I see that they're bringing a dancer this time, and I am expecting to reach nirvana.”