Classical music with edgy energy
eighth blackbird by Luke Ratray
If her family hadn’t moved to Fairfield in 1979, Lisa Kaplan (at right in photo) might never have grown up to be a two-time Grammy award-winning classical pianist. That’s because she wouldn’t have lived just blocks away from Burton Hatheway, the noted local pianist who Kaplan says taught her everything she knows about playing the piano. Living near him, she says, must have been fate.
Kaplan is now a member of eighth blackbird, a Chicago-based sextet that “combines the finesse of a string quartet with the energy of a rock band,” according to its website. Kaplan describes her group’s sound as “polished,” no small feat for a new-music ensemble that includes wind, string, and percussion instruments. In performances all over the world—including the Sydney Opera House last season—the sextet brings to life the music of living composers, including Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Nico Muhly. On stage, eighth blackbird often performs by memory, which is “unbelievably rewarding,” says Kaplan, “once you get past the scary factor.”
The group’s name hails from the Wallace Stevens poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” As students at Oberlin College, the founding members rejected other suggestions, including “Tastes Like Chicken,” Kaplan laughs, in favor of the enigmatic, intentionally lower-cased appellation.
Listeners will get a taste of the eighth blackbirds’ diverse contemporary styles on its new work, Meanwhile. And students at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia will get to study with the group as it begins a three-year residency at the conservatory. The group tours the Netherlands in 2013 but you can see a performance closer to home at the University of Hartford’s Lincoln Theater on November 15.