Eighth Blackbird presents ICE ‘N‘ SPICE Review – Pure and Precise

Lisa Kaplan, pianist, commented that it was strange for Eighth Blackbird to be performing in a venue where food and drink are served.  But City Winery proved up to the challenge of showcasing these talented musicians, especially the sound system, which precisely delivered the thousands of pizzicato notes and double stops on the violin and cello.  The modern blend of piano, violin, cello, clarinet, bass saxophone, flute, piccolo and many percussion instruments came through clearly .  Eighth Blackbird’s musicians are Nathalie Joachim, flutes; Michael J. Maccaferri, clarinets; Yvonne Lam, violin and viola; Nick Photinos, cello; Matthew Duvall, percussion; and Lisa Kaplan, piano.  Originally founded by 1996 graduates of Oberlin College, Eighth Blackbird is reputed to be one of the foremost  contemporary music ensembles in the world.

Eighth Blackbird Skims Across Smooth Ice

ICE ‘N‘ SPICE, an eclectic acoustic concert, takes its title from a work on the program written by LA-based composer and Blackbird Creative Lab alumna Nina Shekhar.  As the title foreshadows, you could see yourself skimming across the smooth ice, and then hit smack against patches of raucous spice.   Electric Aroma by Lab alumnus Viet Cuong and Eroding by Iceland-born Lab alumna Fjóla Evans would be fitting music to accompany a reading of The Martian Chronicles, with its unpopulated mysterious spaces.  Both put you into unknown worlds, evoking purity in their unblemished states.  The Clarity of Cold Air by Jon Holland took us back to that smooth, icy place, but this time with no obstacles.  You could feel the gasping intake of frigid air  we recently experienced venturing out in the -20° Chicago Polar Vortex.

Lively Pieces Feature Rhythm and Taunting

Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup by Holly Harrison (which won Eighth Blackbird the Performance of the Year award at Australia’s Art Music Awards in 2017), changed the atmosphere dramatically.  Taking its name from Alice in Wonderland, the musicians chased each other around Wonderland, shouting taunts, throwing musical salvos.  When pianist Lisa Kaplan, introduced the final piece, Stay On It by Julius Eastman, she noted that during her pregnancy she repeatedly listened to it.  Today, when her daughter hears it, she begins immediately to prance and parade around, perhaps still familiar with her in utero education.  This is an unusual piece.  Eastman repeats and repeats the rhythmatic opening to the point of distraction.  Finally, the musicians being to introduce singular note additions, one after another.  Eventually Stay On It is joyfully transformed, until it returns to its repetitious roots.

Eighth Blackbird Highly Recommended for Adventurous Music Lovers

The audience seemed to be composed of appreciative aging geeks, lots of full gray beards and round glasses.  Adventuresome Millennials were also sprinkled throughout.  Most responded enthusiastically to Eighth Blackbird’s unique, often hard on the ear, musical style.  In this music lover’s view, this is not music for the masses, but the technical brilliance of the musicians comes across in every piece, with each clear note.

Highly recommended for those with adventurous musical taste.

ICE ‘N’ SPICE was one performance only, but your can find Eighth Blackbird performing throughout Chicago this Spring and Summer.  Check the Eight Blackbird website for upcoming performances.

Photos by Saverio Truglia.

Ann Boland
Portrait by Paul Sierra

Reviewer Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation.  Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders.  Please visit her website for more information.  


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