Eighth Blackbird: Tiny Desk Concert Watch the Grammy-winning Chicago sextet perform new music by David Lang, Bryce Dessner and Robert Honstein.

Tiny Desk

Eighth Blackbird

The Chicago new-music ensemble Eighth Blackbird is on a roll. Just after winning its fourth Grammy in February, the group received a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions; the prize came with a $400,000 grant. Hand Eye — Eighth Blackbird's second album in seven months — just came out, and this season the group marks its 20th anniversary. The celebration includes an extensive tour, with world premieres of music by Bryce Dessner and David T. Little, as well as a gig as a "living installation" at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, where Eighth Blackbird has commandeered the third-floor galleries as a space to rehearse and perform.

It's an understatement to note that there's far less space behind Bob Boilen's desk. But after a few discussions about placement, the sextet squeezed in while making sure everyone could see each other — one of the keys to navigating rhythmically challenging pieces by David Lang, Bryce Dessner and Robert Honstein.

Right out of the gate, we meet the group's newest member, flutist Nathalie Joachim, who opens the first of two short pieces, "Wave The Sea," with a scurrying theme of nervous energy. The music is by Bryce Dessner, perhaps best known for his work in The National but increasingly in demand as a classical composer. It's Dessner's take on the folk tradition of grisly story-songs collected in his larger suite, Murder Ballades.

"Pulse," from Robert Honstein's three-movement Conduit, seems to hover in midair. Throbbing notes from Matthew Duvall's vibraphone, Yvonne Lam's violin, Lisa Kaplan's piano and Michael J. Maccaferri's clarinet fold in one by one, as if in a round. Joachim's flute floats above while Nicholas Photinos' cello secures the bottom end, fleshing out a mesmerizing wash of sound.

David Lang's "learn to fly," also from a larger work, pumps up the energy with a motoric beat, fueled by Kaplan's syncopation. The interlocking parts race on until Lam finally breaks out of the pattern, soaring in a sweepingly romantic solo.

For those who persist in predicting the death of classical music, Eighth Blackbird once again demonstrates that it remains vibrantly alive.

The group's new album, Hand Eye, is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

Set List

  • Bryce Dessner: "Wave The Sea," "Brushy Fork"
  • Robert Honstein: "Pulse"
  • David Lang: "learn to fly"

Credits

Producers: Tom Huizenga, Niki Walker; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Kara Frame, Colin Marshall; Production Assistant: Jackson Sinnenberg; Photo: Brandon Chew/NPR.

For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Jeremy Dutcher performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 22, 2019 (Michael Zamora/NPR). Michael Zamora/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Michael Zamora/NPR

Jeremy Dutcher

There is no one making music like this 27-year-old, classically trained opera tenor and pianist. Watch and see why.

Ensemble Signal performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 25, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Ensemble Signal Plays Jonny Greenwood

Watch members of the New York-based group give the world premiere video performances of two recent pieces by Radiohead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood.

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider perform a Tiny Desk Concert on March 6, 2019. Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider

Watch what happens when the smoky-voiced jazz singer from Mexico conspires with an adventuresome string quartet for songs steeped in Latin American traditions.

Ohmme performs at a Tiny Desk Concert on April 18, 2019 (Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR) Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR

Ohmme

These classically trained artists fill the NPR Music offices with shrieking, rhythmic noise that redefines what an electric guitar can do.

Thou performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 9, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Thou

This is probably the quietest you'll ever hear the first metal band to play the Tiny Desk.

Laraaji performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 8, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Laraaji

Laraaji is best known to some for his ambient work with Brian Eno in the late '70s. He brings his meditative calm to the Tiny Desk in this hypnotic performance.

Toro Y Moi performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 16, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Toro Y Moi

Toro y Moi loses the voice processing, synths and other heavy effects for a stripped-down acoustic set at the Tiny Desk.

Better Oblivion Community Center performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 3, 2019 (Amr Alfky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Better Oblivion Community Center

Tiny Desk alums Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers surprised us all with their stunning collaboration this year as Better Oblivion Community Center. Together they radiate joy at the desk.

The Calidore String Quartet performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 5, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

The Calidore String Quartet

The Calidore String Quartet confirms that the centuries-old formula — two violins, a viola and a cello — is still very much alive and evolving.

Theodore performs a Tiny Desk Concert on March 27, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Theodore

The music of Theodore is dark and transformative, with the kind of spare elegance you can hear in Sigur Rós or Pink Floyd.

Back To Top