eighth blackbird welcomes new member: violinist Yvonne Lam

Grammy Award-winning sextet eighth blackbird – the ultimate ambassador for new music – announces an important change to its line-up, bidding a reluctant farewell to founding member, violinist, violist, and arranger Matt Albert, and a warm welcome to new member Yvonne Lam. Lam, who currently serves as Assistant Concertmaster of the Washington National Opera Orchestra, is an exceptionally talented musician who studied both piano and violin at the Colburn School before going on to earn her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Curtis and Juilliard respectively. Her first performance with eighth blackbird as its new violinist will be in the ensemble’s home town, playing at Chicago Counterpoint, a festival of Steve Reich works in Millennium Park on August 22. This concert, presented with Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion, will include an all-live performance of Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet with both Lam and Albert on the violin.

One of eighth blackbird’s founding members, Matt Albert has played a vital role in the group’s phenomenal success since its inception in 1996. The sextet’s current “PowerFUL/LESS” program features two of his arrangements: the timeless “Chaconne” from Bach’s Partita in D minor, and Frederic Rzewski’s politically-charged Coming Together, as heard on eighth blackbird’s 2005 album, Fred. About his decision to leave the ensemble, Albert says:

“Playing with eighth blackbird has meant the world to me. We formed in college, so we’ve grown up together and accomplished so much through hundreds of performances, commissions, and recordings. When I think back, I’m proud and amazed at how much we’ve done together. I especially appreciate all the wonderful people I’ve met and worked with, from composers, musicians, and collaborators from other genres to presenters, listeners, and supporters from around the country and the world.

“After 15 years, I now feel I’m ready to move on and explore more of what the musical world has to offer. I’m looking forward to playing Sibelius symphonies, Mozart string quartets, and new violin works that I’ve commissioned. These possibilities, and the many others I’ve yet to discover, are why I’m excited, and why the rest of the group is excited for me.”

As for Lam, she is thrilled by her new appointment:

“I am passionately devoted to chamber music. I adore the intimacy, intensity and attention to detail required of a small ensemble. At its heart, eighth blackbird is an incredibly tight, incredibly focused chamber ensemble, but what particularly excites me are the extra elements they explore: their diverse repertoire, fascinating collaborations, innovative memorization/stagings, and audience engagement. These elements combine not only to make a truly unique musical experience, but to push the chamber music tradition forward. I had an absolute ball playing with the ensemble during my trial with the group earlier this spring, and I’m nervous but excited about getting to work on the huge pile of music weighing down my music stand!”

Tim Munro, eighth blackbird’s flutist, speaks on behalf of all the ensemble members in welcoming their new colleague:

“First and foremost, Yvonne is a bloody amazing violinist. In Bach, Tchaikovsky, Boulez or Hartke, she can lay it all down with ease and quality. That said, she also possesses a quicksilver musical mind, a strong intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to throw herself into anything and everything. She is a very welcome addition to our bizarre family!”

About Yvonne Lam:

An accomplished chamber musician, violinist Yvonne Lam has collaborated with such distinguished artists as Ida Kavafian and Fred Sherry. She participated in the New York premiere of Gabriela Ortiz’s quintet El águila bicéfala in Juilliard’s Focus! Festival 2006, and presented a program of new chamber works at Juilliard and Harvard with the Juilliard Pierrot Ensemble in collaboration with Altavoz, a group of young Latin-American composers. Lam has toured with SONYC (String Orchestra of New York City) and performed with ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble). She toured Israel as first violinist – and sometime pianist – of the Colburn Quartet, and toured in 2010 with Musicians from Marlboro. Her chamber music festival appearances include Marlboro, Angel Fire, Ravinia, Yellow Barn, and Taos.

Currently serving as Assistant Concertmaster of the Washington National Opera Orchestra, Lam has appeared as soloist with such renowned orchestras as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Pacific Symphony, Auckland Philharmonia, and American Youth Symphony. Combining intelligence, sensitivity, and formidable technical prowess, she has been praised by the New Zealand Herald for offering the “subtlest of nuancing.”

Lam has earned top prizes at the Liana Issakadze International Competition, Holland-America Music Society Competition, Pasadena Instrumental Competition, Bronislaw Kaper Awards, the Arts Recognition and Talent Search festival (sponsored by the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts), and Donna Reed Foundation Competition, besides taking the silver medal at the 2005 Michael Hill International Violin Competition. She won prizes for Best Performance of a Commissioned Work at both the Irving M. Klein International String Competition and the Michael Hill Violin Competition.

A native of Los Angeles, Yvonne Lam studied piano and violin at the Colburn School of Performing Arts, before earning her Bachelor’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music in 2005, where she studied with Victor Danchenko, and her Master’s degree in violin performance from the Juilliard School, studying with Robert Mann.

About eighth blackbird:

Hailed as “friendly, unpretentious, idealistic, and highly skilled” by the New Yorker, eighth blackbird is widely lauded for its unusual performing style – often playing from memory with theatrical flair – and for its efforts to make new music accessible to wider audiences. Since its founding in 1996, the sextet has actively commissioned and recorded new works; recent commissions include a concerto from Jennifer Higdon and pieces from Steve Reich, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Steven Mackey, David Lang, Stephen Hartke, and Bruno Mantovani. The group’s CD strange imaginary animals won two Grammy Awards in 2008, including one for Best Chamber Music Performance.

Now celebrating its 15th season, eighth blackbird showcases music by the two most recent Pulitzer Prize-winning composers in its 2010-11 recording and performing repertoire, featuring new and recent works (written expressly for the ensemble) by both Jennifer Higdon and Steve Reich. Headlining the group’s season is its new politically-driven two-part program “PowerFUL/less”, tackling Stravinsky’s provocative statement questioning the value, meaning and power of art. The ensemble curated and performed in Park Avenue Armory’s new “Tune-In” contemporary music festival in New York City. Other season highlights include a return to Zankel Hall; performances at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art; a tour of Higdon’s new concerto On a Wire with several high-profile orchestras; Reich festivals on both sides of the Atlantic – at Carnegie Hall and at London’s Barbican Hall; a return to the Library of Congress for a concert that includes the world premiere of a new work by Stephen Hartke. They also added two new CDs to their discography: the first, released by Nonesuch in September 2010, featured Reich’s prize-winning Double Sextet, and was selected as one of the “Best of 2010” by numerous media outlets; the second, highlighting Higdon’s concerto On a Wire, was the CD that launched the Atlanta Symphony’s new label, ASO Media.

Last season eighth blackbird made its debut at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, playing the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Grazioso!, and presented a new version of Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire. The ensemble premiered Slide, a new music-theater piece by Rinde Eckert and Steven Mackey, at the Ojai Music Festival (where eighth blackbird acted as Music Director for the 2009 season), and it held a week-long residency at the Curtis Institute of Music. eighth blackbird was honored in 2007 with the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and a Meet The Composer Award, and the group’s numerous competition wins include the Grand Prize at the Concert Artists Guild International Competition and the Naumburg Chamber Music Award. The sextet has been profiled in the New York Times and featured on CBS Sunday Morning and Bloomberg TV’s Muse. eighth blackbird has recorded for the Cedille, Nonesuch, and Naxos labels, and is represented by David Lieberman Artists’ Representatives.

Details of eighth blackbird’s upcoming engagements follow below, and much additional information is available at the group’s web site: www.eighthblackbird.org.

Author: James McQuiston

Ph.D. in Political Science, Kent State University. I have been the editor at NeuFutur / neufutur.com since I was 15. Looking for new staff members all the time; email me if you are interested. Thanks!

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