“Stage animals as well as outstanding chamber players, eighth blackbird performs with a freedom almost unheard of in their technically demanding repertoire.”
—Sunday Telegraph, London
“eighth blackbird play like musicians possessed.”
The dazzling sextet eighth blackbird embraces Venetian commedia dell’arte in this new music-theater fairytale of love and death, dream and delusion, by Amy Beth Kirsten and commissioned by the MCA. The musicians not only play their instruments but speak, sing, whisper, growl, and mime in this modern take on one of the world’s earliest dark comedies, originated by the poetess Isabella Andreini, the most celebrated actress of the early 1600s. Wearing masks in the traditional comedia dell’arte style, the ensemble conveys every bit of mischief in this dark comedy first performed centuries ago—the grand story of Harlequin, who loves the elusive Colombine, and the machinations of the greedy father Pantaloon, the conspirator Clown, and the servant Pierrot. Fragile, lovelorn, and passionate, Colombine is caught in a painful triangle: longing for Harlequin, lusted after by Pierrot.
Composer Amy Beth Kirsten’s fragile, seductive music and libretto take us into these conflicted realms in this illustrious ode to love. Director Mark DeChiazza has previously worked with eighth blackbird on the inventive, cabaret-style production of Pierrot lunaire. Colombine’s Paradise Theatre is developed in part through an MCA residency and brings eighth blackbird back to MCA Stage. As a curtain-raiser to this love-haunted show, eighth blackbird presents a set of love songs through the ages, from Machaut’s courtly love and Monteverdi’s “little death” to early American folk ballads.
About the Artists
Chicago-based eighth blackbird captured their third Grammy Award in 2013 for Meanwhile (Cedille Records) in the chamber music category. The ensemble’s two earlier Grammy Awards are for strange imaginary animals (Best Chamber Music Performance, 2006) and Lonely Motel: Music from Slide (Best Small Ensemble Performance, 2012). Since its founding in 1996, eighth blackbird has actively commissioned and recorded new works from such eminent composers as Steve Reich, George Perle, and Frederic Rzewski, and has commissioned groundbreaking works from a younger generation (Jennifer Higdon, Stephen Hartke, Derek Bermel, David Schober, Daniel Kellogg, and Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérrez). Steve Reich’s off-kilter jam session Double Sextet won the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and the MCA joined eighth blackbird in commissioning Murder Ballades by Bryce Dessner of The National. eighth blackbird has performed across the world from Carnegie Hall to London’s Barbican Centre. The sextet has performed Jennifer Higdon’s concerto On a Wire (an eighth blackbird commission) with major symphony orchestras that include Cleveland, Atlanta, and Toronto.
Learn more about eighth blackbird.
Amy Beth Kirsten, a native of Belleville, Illinois, is an ascending composer for orchestra, chamber ensemble, opera, and solo instruments, and also a librettist and poet. During her studies at Benedictine University (BA, jazz studies) and Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University (MM, composition), she often performed her own songs at clubs in the area. Since then Kirsten has written music for orchestra, chamber ensemble, opera, and solo instruments. Color, memory, voice, words, and breath are fascinations that are intrinsic to her musical language. She has a doctorate in composition from Peabody Conservatory, and her notable awards and grants are from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Fromm Foundation (Harvard University), and The MAP Fund. Her recent work for solo cello is commissioned by Jeffrey Zeigler of Kronos Quartet. She teaches composition at the HighSCORE Festival in Pavia, Italy, and has taught on the faculties of Peabody Conservatory, Towson University, Wesleyan University, and the University of Connecticut. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
Learn more about Amy Beth Kirsten.
Artists Up Close
First Night Post-Show Talk
Sat, Mar 8
Peter Taub, Director of Performance Programs, leads a discussion with the artists and audience immediately following the performance.