Eighth Blackbird

May 12th, 2018, 7:30pm


Eighth Blackbird is “one of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet” (Chicago Tribune). Launched by six entrepreneurial Oberlin Conservatory undergraduates in 1996, this Chicago-based super-group has earned its status as “a brand-name…defined by adventure, vibrancy, and quality….known for performing from memory, employing choreography and collaborations with theater artists, lighting designers, and even puppetry artists” (Detroit Free Press).

Eighth Blackbird first gained wide recognition in 1998 as winners of the Concert Artists Guild Competition. Over the following two decades, Eighth Blackbird has commissioned and premiered hundreds of works by composers such as David Lang, Steven Mackey, Missy Mazzoli, and Steve Reich, whose Double Sextet went on to win the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. A long-term relationship with Chicago’s Cedille Records has produced seven acclaimed recordings and four Grammy Awards for Best Small Ensemble/Chamber Music Performance, most recently in 2016 for Filament. Hand Eye, their most recent recording released in March 2016 and featuring the music of composer collective Sleeping Giant, was hailed as “dazzling” and “vigorously, flawlessly performed” (WQXR).

Eighth Blackbird’s mission—to move music forward through innovative performance, advocate for new music by living composers, and create 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. The 2015-16 season featured a pioneering residency at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art: a living installation with open rehearsals, performances, guest artists, and public talks. Eighth Blackbird launches its most ambitious educational venture yet in June 2017: The Blackbird Creative Lab, an annual tuition-free two-week intensive for emerging artists at the Besant Hill School in Ojai, California.


Eighth Blackbird is very focused on music education. In 2017, they launched the Blackbird Creative Laboratory, a tuition-free, two-week summer workshop and performance festival. While in Des Moines, the ensemble will offer the following music education opportunities, which are open to the public and offered at no cost to the participants and audience members:

Friday, May 11

  • Percussion Masterclass and Cello Masterclass: 2:00-3:00 PM, Performing Arts Hall and Turner Jazz Center, Drake University
  • Eighth Blackbird Lecture and Demonstration: 5:00-6:00 PM, Sheslow Auditorium, Drake University
Saturday, May 12
  • Eighth Blackbird Open Rehearsal: 4:00-5:00 PM, Sheslow Auditorium, Drake University


Bryce Dessner: Suite from Murder Ballades (2013, rev. 2015)
Omie Wise-Young Emily
Wave the Sea-Brushy Fork
Dan Trueman: Suite from Olagón: A Cantata in Doublespeak (2017)
Stirrings I
Marbhan’s Shadow
Ululations II
Reeling Reel
Ned McGowan: The Garden of Iniquitous Creatures (2016)
David Lang: wed from memory pieces (1992), arr. Kaplan/Duvall
Ted Hearne: By-By Huey (2015)
Robert Honstein: Pulse from Conduit (2015)
Timo Andres: Checkered Shade (2015)

Eighth Blackbird’s members hail from the 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.”

Eighth Blackbird is managed by David Lieberman Artists.

Ticket Info

Season passes are available for this performance.

Get Details

Tickets for Eighth Blackbird go on sale July 15, 2017 for the following prices:

  • Main Floor Center: $40
  • Main Floor East & West: $35
  • Balcony Center: $45
  • Balcony SE & SW: $30
  • Balcony East & West: $20
  • Student Rush: $10

Buy Concert Tickets