Eighth Blackbird exhibits 8 colorful sketches in modern music at National Gallery


In “Electric Aroma,” Viet Cuong paired flute and clarinet, clawing at each other with dissonance, to the tango-like accompaniment of piano and percussion. Holly Harrison, an Australian who also plays drums in a rock duo, drew on boogie-woogie and heavy metal in “Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup,” contrasted with tender melodic passages from violinist Elly Toyoda and cellist Nick Photinos. The musicians periodically shouted lines from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” adding to the surreal quality.

Eighth Blackbird commissioned all four of these pieces in recent years, spotlighting not only the group’s virtuosity but also their crucial role as a catalyst for new music. Older pieces rounded out the program. Andy Akiho wrote “Karakurenai” for his own instrument, steel pan, but Eighth Blackbird adapted its ostinato patterns, at times reminiscent of a cellphone ringtone, to the ensemble’s formation, minus flutist Molly Barth. Pianist Lisa Kaplan adapted David Lang’s “Wed,” from the “Memory Pieces” for piano, to include the tinges of percussion implied by its repeated chordal textures.

Jonathan Bailey Holland’s “The Clarity of Cold Air” conjured a wintry landscape with clustered long notes that amassed and melted away, metallic glints answered by wind sounds blown through the flute and clarinet. Julius Eastman’s “Stay On It” was the program’s oldest work, composed in 1973, featuring a truly deafening clatter-fueled fracas from percussionist Matthew Duvall. Backed by the echoing stone of the West Garden Court, it was dangerously brutal on the ears.


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