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Preview: eighth blackbird And The Pacifica Quartet

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 13, 2009 8:20PM

"Knight, Death, and the Devil" (Wikipedia Commons)
Contempo kicks off its season this Saturday night with the new-music collective's resident ensembles eighth blackbird and the Pacifica Quartet performing music inspired by visual arts.

Keep your SSRIs handy, because half of the program trends toward the darker side of things. American composer Frederic Rzewski's "Knight, Death, and Devil" is based on Albrecht Dürer's work of the same name (pictured right). The piece consists of a series of short movements based on six folk songs about war (most recognizable is "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye," or, if you're a Civil War buff, the song's cousin, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home"). These represent the knight, with periodic interruptions by slices of silence (death) and portions of irrelevant material (devil).

If unusual music based on a 16th-century allegory doesn't get you down, just wait for Karim Al-Zand's "Lamentations on the Disasters of War." The composition is an elegy based on Francisco Goya's series of prints depicting Napoleon's invasion of Spain, a foray that resulted in atrocities committed by both the occupying army and the guerilla resistance. Sound familiar? It's been an all-too-familiar pattern throughout history, but "Lamentations," dedicated to the composer's brother who was killed in Iraq in 2005, carries a particularly heavy weight.

You'll get a reprieve, however, from the other two pieces on the concert: Laura Elise Schwendinger's "High Wire Act," based on Alexander Calder's wire circus shows, and Andres Carrizo's "Fantasia Sobre Soledad." Not based on visual arts, "Fantasia" is the outlier of Saturday's show; instead, the work is fueled by the music of Astor Piazzolla.

Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan, 7th Floor, (773) 702-8068, Saturday at 7:30 p.m., $20 general, $5 students