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The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Funds eighth blackbird Residency Beginning in Fall 2012

$450,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation funds three-year residency by Grammy Award-winning new music sextet to prepare students for 21st-century careers

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(February 13, 2012) The Curtis Institute of Music will partner with pioneering contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird, "a new breed of super-musicians" (Los Angeles Times) revamping the concert experience and forging new relationships with audiences, to create a three-year residency funded by a $450,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Designed to prepare students to enter today's challenging classical music world, the residency will support the school's aim to shape artistic leaders who find creative new ways to engage audiences while maintaining the highest artistic standards.

eighth blackbird is the ideal partner for Curtis. The group performs in non-traditional venues, champions new technologies, and attracts fans of all ages to its performances. Over fifteen seasons, the ensemble has steadily built and broadened its audience. This success is the direct result of eighth blackbird's compelling performances, sincere conviction that concertgoers can be similarly moved, and culture of entrepreneurship. Members are involved in every aspect of the group's management, including artistic planning, community engagement, grant writing, tour management, and accounting.

"A multi-year residency at the Curtis Institute of Music is both a great honor and a huge responsibility," said eighth blackbird's Tim Munro. "We aim to fill Curtis's hallowed halls with eighth blackbird's unique blend of musical curiosity, intelligence, flexibility, theatricality, entrepreneurial spirit, and humor. With any luck we will start and stoke a few artistic fires along the way."

eighth blackbird will be active members of the Curtis community, visiting for four weeks each year beginning in October 2012 and working closely with David Ludwig, Gie and Lisa Liem Artistic Chair of Performance Studies and artistic director of Curtis 20/21. The residency will build on Curtis's "learn by doing" philosophy and its focus on inventing careers for the 21st century. With these principles and Curtis's strong programs in contemporary music and community engagement as the basis, eighth blackbird will encourage Curtis students to be inventive and entrepreneurial about their own careers and to connect more deeply with audiences and their community.

"These are essential skills for every musician--not just those who will forge their own path as solo artists or chamber musicians," said Curtis President Roberto Díaz. "Our students must become advocates for classical music, people who explore new performance and community engagement models and help classical music thrive."

The ensemble's residency activities, which will connect in some way with nearly every student at Curtis, include:

  • collaboration and side-by-side performances with the Curtis 20/21 ensemble
  • chamber music coachings
  • readings of works by composition students
  • seminars with student conductors
  • leadership discussions
  • world premieres of new works by annual composer-in-residence
  • involvement in artistic planning of the annual All-School Project
  • work with the community engagement program

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's grant to support the residency reflects the foundation's long-demonstrated commitment to achieving lasting cultural shifts in classical music institutions. The Mellon Foundation performing arts grant program supports institutions at the highest level of performance that also contribute to the development of their art form and provide creative leadership in solving problems. Through the eighth blackbird residency and similar forward-looking initiatives at Curtis, students are developing the mindset, skillset, and initiative to create transformative change from within musical organizations.

The Curtis Institute of Music educates and trains exceptionally gifted young musicians for careers as performing artists on the highest professional level. One of the world's leading conservatories, Curtis is highly selective and provides full-tuition scholarships to all of its 163 students. In this intimate environment, students receive personalized attention from a celebrated faculty. A busy schedule of performances is at the heart of Curtis's distinctive "learn by doing" approach. This philosophy has produced an impressive number of notable artists since the school's founding in 1924, from such legends as Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber to current stars Jonathan Biss, Juan Diego Flórez, Alan Gilbert, Hilary Hahn, Jennifer Higdon, and Lang Lang.

eighth blackbird 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. Recent commissions include Steve Reich's Double Sextet, Jennifer Higdon's On a Wire, and Steve Mackey's Slide, and future collaborators include Amy Beth Kirsten, Brett Dean, Aaron Jay Kernis, John Luther Adams, and Mayke Nas. eighth blackbird holds ongoing ensemble-in-residence positions at the University of Richmond and University of Chicago and has led short-term residencies at the Colburn School, University of Michigan, Oberlin College, Southern Methodist University, and Rice University. A fruitful relationship with Chicago's Cedille Records has produced four acclaimed recordings, including strange imaginary animals (2006), winner of two Grammy Awards. Lonely Motel: Music from Slide, eighth blackbird's newest disc, won the 2011 Grammy for Best Small Ensemble Performance and was nominated in three other categories. The name "eighth blackbird" derives from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens's evocative, aphoristic poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1917).

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