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Performance: Eighth Blackbird—Love Letters

Live Arts


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  • Free with museum admission

Members of the four-time Grammy-winning contemporary music sextet Eighth Blackbird present a series of musical love letters to masterworks from the Art Institute collection. Performances take place in the galleries throughout the museum.

About the artists
Eighth Blackbird, hailed by the Chicago Tribune as “one of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet,” began in 1996 as a group of six entrepreneurial Oberlin Conservatory students and quickly became “a brand name defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality” (Detroit Free Press). Over the course of more than two decades, Eighth Blackbird has continually pushed at the edges of what it means to be a contemporary chamber ensemble, presenting distinctive programs in Chicago, nationally, and internationally, and reaching audiences totaling tens of thousands. The sextet has commissioned and premiered hundreds of works by composers both established and emerging, and it has perpetuated the creation of music with profound impact, such as Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, which went on to win the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. The ensemble’s extensive recording history, primarily with Chicago’s Cedille Records, has produced more than a dozen acclaimed albums and four Grammy Awards for Best Small Ensemble/Chamber Music Performance, most recently in 2016 for Filament. Longstanding collaborative relationships have led to performances with some of the most well-regarded classical artists of today, from heralded performers like Dawn Upshaw and Jeremy Denk to seminal composers like Philip Glass and Nico Muhly. For recent projects, Eighth Blackbird has joined forces with artists who defy the persistent distinction between classical and nonclassical music, including composers Bryce Dessner of the National and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Perry as well as performers Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, My Brightest Diamond front woman Shara Nova, Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy), and Iarla Ó Lionáird of the Gloaming, among others.

Eighth Blackbird first gained wide recognition in 1998 as winners of the Concert Artists Guild Competition. Since 2000, the ensemble has called Chicago home and has been committed to serving as both importer and exporter of world-class artistic experiences. A recent yearlong pioneering residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, during which the ensemble served as a living installation with open rehearsals, performances, guest artists, and public talks, exemplified their stature as community influencers. Receiving the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, Chamber Music America’s inaugural Visionary Award, and being named Musical America’s 2017 Ensemble of the Year have supported Eighth Blackbird’s position as a catalyst for innovation in the new music ecosystem of Chicago and beyond.

Eighth Blackbird’s mission—moving music forward through innovative performance, advocating for new music by living composers, and creating a legacy of guiding an emerging generation of musicians—extends beyond recording and touring to curation and education. The ensemble served as Music Director of the 2009 Ojai Music Festival, has held residencies at the Curtis Institute of Music and at the University of Chicago, and holds an ongoing Ensemble-in-Residence position at the University of Richmond. In 2017, Eighth Blackbird launched its boldest initiative yet with the creation of Blackbird Creative Laboratory, an inclusive two-week summer workshop and performance festival for performers and composers in Ojai, California.

The members of Eighth Blackbird hail from Great Lakes, Keystone, Golden, Empire, and Bay states. The name “Eighth Blackbird” derives from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’s evocative, imagistic poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”:

I know noble accents  
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too, 
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know. 

Persons with disabilities who would like to request an accessibility accommodation for an Art Institute program are encouraged to send an e-mail to access@artic.edu two weeks in advance of the program. 


Support for Live Arts programming is provided by the Woman’s Board of the Art Institute of Chicago.


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