Grammy-winning ensemble premieres new work from Calgary composer Allan Gordon Bell
Beacon Staff Reporter
For Calgary composer Allan Gordon Bell, being selected to write a brand new composition for Eighth Blackbird was an honour, and a challenge.
It is not every day a Calgary composer gets to write a piece for a two-time Grammy Award-winning chamber music ensemble.
“The selection process started when Calgary Pro Musica Artistic Director Dean O’Brien and David Eagle (University of Calgary Department of Music, Artistic Director of the Happenings Festival of New Music and Media) began the planning for the Eighth Blackbird performance,” said Bell.
They wanted to ensure that there was a Calgary area composer on the program because the focus of the Festival this year is creativity in Calgary.
“A number of composers submitted scores for Eighth Blackbird to consider and I was chosen. They would have to tell you why, since my colleagues are superb composers.”
Eighth Blackbird will premiere Bell’s composition at the U of C’s Rozsa Centre at 8 p.m. on Jan. 26.
It is presented by Calgary Pro Musica in partnership with the University of Calgary Happening Festival of New Music and Media and New Works Calgary Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall.
Tickets: $40 (adults) $30 (students/seniors) from Calgary Pro Musica at (403) 244-8277. For more details, please visit calgarypromusica.ca.
Bell said that it was a daunting challenge writing a piece for an ensemble the Los Angeles Times calls a new breed of super-musicians.
“I listened carefully to many of their recordings. Then I let that sit for awhile and thought about what I wished to create for this particular grouping (flute, clarinet, violin and piano). Knowing that they are virtuosos and could play much more difficult music than is part of my aesthetic, I decided to give them a couple of unusual challenges by incorporating vocal sounds into their parts,” he said.
The Eighth Blackbird ensemble lives dangerously. The Chicago-based sextet combines the finesse of a string quartet with the energy of a rock band and the riskiness of a storefront theater company.
Its musical aerobatics delight, provoke and entertain audiences around the world. Eighth Blackbird’s most recent recording “Meanwhile” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance and Best Contemporary Classical Composition. The ensemble has two prior Grammy award wins.
Calgary Pro Musica Artistic Director Dean O’Brien is very excited to host the ensemble.
“Eighth Blackbird is remarkable. I have heard them live a few times in New York at the Chamber Music of America conference and the virtuosity in that group is staggering. They play most of their repertoire by memory. I can’t imagine doing that. It’s Herculean,” said O’Brien, who is also an esteemed viola player.
“I can’t fathom playing that material by heart. Their minds just work differently than the rest of us.”