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MCA Hosts eighth blackbird Review – Mixed Bag Performance

By Amy Munice

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“Heart and Breath” was a well-chosen name for the eighth blackbird performance at the MCA.  Although it was one of the shorter pieces in the evening, the opener, “Duo for Heart and Breath” composed by Richard Reed Parry seemed to steal the show.  The premise for the piece might make it sound contrived.   The pianist (Lisa Kaplan) listens to her heart on a stethoscope and plays a repetitive series in sync with her heartbeat.  Meanwhile the violinist (Yvonne Lam) made long strokes with her bow in sync with her breathing.  Gimmicky though this set-up may sound, it was extremely effective creating a piece that made it seem like the life force chi itself had come to sing to us.



Following, the entire eighth blackbird ensemble then performed:  Claudio Monteverdi’s “Lamento della ninfa” (1638, arranged by flutist Timothy Munro); Carlo Gesualdo’s “Moro, lasso, al mio duolo” (1611, also arranged by Timothy Munro) and Bon Iver’s “Babys” arranged by Lisa Kaplan.  Like the opener these were all short performances and were pieced together as a prelude and warm-up for the longer debut of the evening after an intermission.  Once again, eighth blackbird engaged us with their unique musical imprint.


Composer Amy Beth Kirsten’s “Colombine’s Paradise Theatre”, directed by Mark DeChiazza, was the main event of the evening, though perhaps a bit controversial.


Developed over 18 months, including several 4-5 day workshops, this new work aims to draw from 17th century commedia dell’arte to create a storybook poem, told through music, including classic masked Harlequin characters (violin and viola played by Yvonne Lam; clarinets played by Michael J. Maccaferri; and flutes played by Timothy Murno) battling it out with a benevolent truth teller Pierrot character (percussion, Matthew Duvall) as the title role Colombine character (pianist Lisa Kaplan) floats between death and life. 



There were detailed program notes that explained the story line, which did not speak for itself.   



There were moments in the piece that were of great visual interest—especially the unveiling of assemblages of unusual percussive instruments or play-acting of striking notes when there were actually long silences in the composition. 



The masks that the Harlequin characters wore were both in keeping with commedia dell’ arte traditions and fun to look at. 



The opener and reprise of the Colombine character breathing in life did grab attention. 



In the post-show discussion an audience member summarized that this performance created a new higher bar for eighth blackbird to now outdo.  It is doubtful that this audience member, though the only vocal one, was alone.




To this reviewer, however, the music neither stood alone nor added to the overall effect,  and the theatrical aspects had the feel of many a performance art piece where the performers are more affected by the performance than the audience.  


It was a mixed bag—while some were spellbound, others were fidgety. 


No matter whether you were in the camp of enthusiasts or underwhelmed, hats do need to go off to the Museum of Contemporary Art for nurturing this new work into being.    After all, without experimentation new music will no longer deserve the moniker “new”.


You can enjoy a full season of other music, dance and theater events that are geared to push the boundaries at the Museum of Contemporary Art through May 22, 2015.

Performance tickets also become entrance tickets to the museum for the week following performances.


For more information visit the MCA website or call the box office at 312 397 4010. 




Photos:  Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.



Published on Sep 15, 2014

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