Flutist Tim Munro of the Grammy-winning eighth blackbird feels a bond with students at Richmond.
“I like being able to have repeated contact with the students,” he says. “The students who were freshmen when I started with eighth blackbird are now ready to graduate. It’s almost like I’ve developed with them.”
eighth blackbird got its wings in 1996 at Oberlin Conservatory. Munro, the only non-original member, joined the group four years ago.
Over the years, the sextet has received numerous honors including the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for the group’s recording of “strange imaginary animals.”
The sextet started its residency at the University in the 2003/2004 school year after the departure of the Shanghai Quartet which had been in residence for 13 years.
eighth blackbird is as diverse in its instruments—winds, strings, piano, and percussion—as it is in its collaborations, partnering with everything from film to theater.
“We’re always interested in finding ways to add value,” Munro says. “At Richmond we have had collaborations with dance and theater departments.”
eighth blackbird’s fresh, contemporary musical style appeals to fans of all ages.
“We play weird, new music that is wet on the page,” Munro explains. “We are constantly creating new work and Kathy Panoff was very committed to commissioning new work.”
Since its founding, the group has commissioned and recorded new works with composers that include Steve Reich, Frederic Rzewski, and Joseph Schwantner. eighth blackbird is part of a co-commissioned piece called “Double Sextet” for which Steve Reich won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music. The piece, which had its debut at Richmond, will be released in September.
“The Modlin Center is part of our co-commissioning group,” Munro says.
The group’s most recent co-commissioned premiere was this past February. The concert-length music/theater work called “Slide” features actor Rinde Eckert.
“The revised version of the piece premiered at Richmond. It’s an ongoing project for us,” says Munro.
Presenting new work is a priority for the sextet.
“That’s one of the ways we add value to the University,” Munro says.
The group’s residency at Richmond has a substantial education component, as well. The sextet is involved in the University’s chamber music program, coaching small groups during the semester.
“When we are at Richmond we go into classes,” Munro says. “One semester we ran a class. It was a fascinating experience for all of us and I hope for the students.”
eighth blackbird also performs for students and works with various ensembles, including orchestra and dance, on campus.
“We also give some individual lessons to students and work with composers at Richmond,” Munro says.
The group is also in residence at University of Chicago, working almost entirely with composers in master’s degree and Ph.D. programs.
“That complements our work at Richmond nicely,” Munro says.
eighth blackbird tours throughout the year. The group comes to Richmond six times a year—three each semester.
“Most of the rest of our life is transient,” Munro says. “Being able to come and build relationships and rapport with students has been inspiring for us.”
He likes the fact that students at Richmond have a broad range of experiences related to music.
“We don’t work with a lot of performance majors or straight-up music majors. Richmond students are doing music because they love to do it,” he observes. “That recharges our batteries.”