With six members of the innovative chamber ensemble eighth blackbird and six composers making up the Brooklyn-based composer collective Sleeping Giant — not to mention the two groups’ shared penchant for reshaping the landscape of classical music — it seems inevitable that the two would join forces. Now realized, their collaboration takes the shape of “Hand Eye,” a new evening-length work the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society will present at the Kimmel on Friday.
“Hand Eye” consists of six pieces, each written by a different member of Sleeping Giant with a particular member of eighth blackbird in mind, though not in the concerto style one might expect. “In each piece one of the instruments is the ‘inspiration’ behind the piece, but not necessarily the center or soloist of the piece,” says flutist Nathalie Joachim. “The language and energy of the pieces are more reflective of the strengths of the instruments. It’s not always totally obvious, but when it comes down to the core of the pieces you see that each of the composers latched onto one instrument to be a catalyst, to inspire the language of the music, or to direct the pieces sonically.”
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Audacious in their stage presentation as well as their repertoire, eighth blackbird has teamed with stage designer Deborah Johnson — whose CandyStations has created visuals for Wilco, St. Vincent, and Sufjan Stevens — and opera director Matthew Ozawa to create visual projections for the piece. The Philly show will feature the “unplugged” version, with the visuals set to premiere next week at Carnegie Hall, though elements of the full staging will be in place for the show.
“Hand Eye” reflects the ensemble’s hands-on approach to commissioning music, according to Joachim. “It’s rare for the group to commission a composer and wait to see the piece in the mail someday,” she says. “There’s a lot of interaction with the composers, which is a luxury for both the ensemble and the composers. The piece feels true to the ensemble and their tradition of becoming a part of the pieces.”
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Friday’s performance will help the ensemble kick off its 20th anniversary year, though it marks the inaugural season for Joachim, who joined last August. The Juilliard-trained flutist is the co-founder of art-pop duo Flutronix, which stirs together elements of jazz, indie rock, hip-hop and classical music.
“I was a fan of the group for a very long time before joining,” she says of eighth blackbird. “They have a very strong reputation of bold and innovative programming and commissioning as well as wildy creative stage productions that go far beyond the traditional chamber music presentation. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel lucky that I get to write and play my own music influenced by popular genres but also have a home to play contemporary classical chamber music.”
If you go:
Jan. 15, 8 p.m.
Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center
Broad and Spruce streets