Contempo to perform Night Rituals May 18th

I just finished a 15-minute work for the Grammy-winning ensemble eighth blackbird called Night Rituals, which they will premiere as part of a Contempo (The Contemporary Chamber Players of the University of Chicago) concert May 18th at 7:30 in Fulton Hall at the University of Chicago. While it may go without saying that it is incredible to work with these musicians, I have a desire to sing their praises here anyway. Yes, they are all incredible musicians and are all wonderful performers, but what eighth blackbird has is something that few ensembles ever get to really achieve: they are a virtuosic ENSEMBLE. What I mean is, they operate as a seamless unit on stage, and the way they have gotten to that point is through a truly extraordinary maturation process fueled by focus, love of their craft, and countless hours of rehearsal. Rather than a collection of individual virtuoso performers playing in flawless concert, what I hear is six sensitive musicians operating as one exhilarating, dynamic organism.

The piece that I wrote for them is inspired by the simple idea that music in a concert hall is a very specific ritual. There is a sacredness to the space, a reverence to the performers and composers presenting their work, and a familiar pattern of behavior that has evolved out of late 19th Century concert practices. I took this idea and ran with it, all the way back to ancient Mayan, Celtic, and Greek rituals. The title refers not only to the time of day, but the time of year for specific rituals: the first two rituals are to be held at the end of autumn, to prepare for the longest nights of the year, a time of purification in Celtic and Mayan calendars. These prototypical cultures had much in common with modern concert aesthetics: the players purify themselves and give a part of themselves, hopefully inducing a transcendent state in the audience and performer alike. The rituals point heavenward, and always attempt to express in music and dance what cannot be expressed in words. These rituals are not safe, and blood may be lost in the process.

Featured Recordings

Live Performance by eighth blackbird

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for two alto saxophones, mallet percussion, and piano

live performance by Zach Herchen, Philipp Stäudlin, Ryan Packard, and Aaron Likness, June 26th, 2011

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