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Arts Desk

Eighth Blackbird Soars with Jennifer Higdon's Concerto Influenced by Birds In Flight

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The Chicago-based Eighth Blackbird ensemble is dedicated to perfoming music by living composers.

Jennifer Higdon’s concerto, On a Wire, was inspired by images of birds, as well as the innovative versatility of the musicians of Eighth Blackbird, the contemporary soloist ensemble. 

Join us for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert on WRTI 90.1 with Host Gregg Whiteside on Sunday, July 11th, at 1 pm on WRTI 90.1 and on Monday, July 12th at 7 pm on WRTI's HD 2 channel to hear Eighth Blackbird and The Philadelphia Orchestra perform Jennifer Higdon’s On a Wire.

You know in the fall when you have birds flocking, you see them going in waves. I actually mimic that with the gestures with the ensemble, and also the orchestra.

On a Wire features the sound of a piano -- but not the way we're accustomed to hearing it. Top up, it’s surrounded by musicians who have momentarily put aside their other instruments to play "‘bowed piano."

"Each one of the players has a bow that they string under the strings of the piano and they pull it," explains composer Jennifer Higdon, who wrote On a Wire for the six-member group, Eighth Blackbird.

Violinist Yvonne Lam in this piece also plays viola. "I will do whatever is asked of me by composers. We think of us primarily as performers not instrumentalists."

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Credit Candace diCarlo
Composer Jennifer Higdon

Performers who routinely play from memory and often move about the stage—creating new musical possibilities.

"It let my imagination fly free!" says Higdon, with delight.  She says she was guided by imagery of birds—how they sit, how they move, how they soar.

"You know in the fall when you have birds flocking, you see them going in waves. I actually mimic that with the gestures with the ensemble, and also the orchestra; that magic thing you see where they go up and it’s like one entity breathing, and then they sink back down…. I think this piece represents for me the joy of new music! "

One orchestra, and six ensemble soloists on flute, clarinet, viola, cello, percussion and piano, free to play, to move, to fly.