Eighth Blackbird
Heart and Breath

  • Edlis Neeson Theater
    First Floor, Accessible via the Griffin Entrance on Pearson Street
    220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611


Performance view, Eighth Blackbird, Heart and Breath, MCA Chicago, Sep 12, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


Wildly imaginative … a highly stylized, darkly beautiful love story that’s steeped in myth yet utterly modern.
—Washington Post


The Grammy-winning sextet performs an intriguing program that traces love through the ages, from Baroque jewels by Monteverdi and Gesualdo to Bon Iver and Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry. The centerpiece of the evening is Amy Beth Kirsten’s musical spectacle Colombine’s Paradise Theatre. Decked out in masks and costumes, the Chicago sextet plays, speaks, sings, growls, and mimes theatrical life into this dark commedia dell’arte fantasy.

An exultant musical fantasy, Colombine’s Paradise Theatre embraces and transforms the seventeenth-century Italian story of Harlequin, Colombine, and Pierrot into a dark, mythical story of love, death, dream, and delusion. The six members of Eighth Blackbird play flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello, piano, and percussion—while also singing and speaking Kirsten’s transfixing music and text. In this nocturnal, shadowy world, a flute solo morphs into a whispered soliloquy, a bass drum becomes the moon, and the very landscape turns into an instrument. This dazzlingly expressionistic poem invokes both dream and nightmare.

Colombine’s Paradise Theatre was commissioned by the MCA and developed during a residency at the MCA earlier this year.



Eighth Blackbird performing Amy Beth Kirsten’s Colombine’s Paradise Theatre
Photo: Sylvianne Shurman

About the Artists

In 2013, the Chicago-based ensemble eighth blackbird snagged its third Grammy for its album Meanwhile, winning in the chamber music category. Its previous Grammys were for Lonely Motel: Music from Slide in 2012 and strange imaginary animals in 2006. The group has performed in Carnegie Hall in New York and the Barbican in London; with major symphony orchestras including Cleveland, Atlanta, and Toronto; and in multiple seasons at MCA Stage. In 2000, eighth blackbird performed Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire at both the Kennedy Center and the MCA. eighth blackbird, which derived its name from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” is ensemble in residence at the University of Chicago, the University of Richmond, and the Curtis Institute of Music.

Amy Beth Kirsten, a native of Belleville, Illinois, is an ascending composer for orchestra, chamber ensemble, opera, and solo instruments, as well as a librettist and poet. While studying jazz at Benedictine University and composition at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, she performed her own songs in area clubs. She earned a doctorate in composition from the Peabody Conservatory and has won awards and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Fromm Foundation, and the MAP Fund. Kirsten has taught at the Peabody Conservatory, Towson University, Wesleyan University, and the University of Connecticut. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Mark DeChiazza is the director and designer for Colombine’s Paradise Theater. He works across disciplines as a director, filmmaker, designer, and choreographer, and first worked with eighth blackbird in 2009 on Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. DeChiazza created the film for Amy Beth Kirsten’s work for orchestra, chorus, and film titled strange pilgrims, which the American Composers Orchestra premiered in 2014. Other recent video projects include projection design for two new operas by Jonathan Berger, Visitations: Theotokia and The War Reporter. Mark directed, choreographed, and designed projections for the premiere of Anthony Davis’s opera Lear on the 2nd Floor. He recently directed a staged concert of Missy Mazzoli’s work, and, in an ongoing collaboration with composer Stephen Mackey, is creating Orpheus Unsung: an opera for electric guitar.

Featured image

Performance view, Eighth Blackbird, Heart and Breath, MCA Chicago, Sep 12, 2014
Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago


Heart and Breath is supported in part by the Amphion Foundation.