Born in Philadelphia on March 12, 1921, Ralph Shapey began musical training in violin at age 7. At 16, he began studying violin with Emanuel Zeitlin and embarked on composition studies with the German composer Stefan Wolpe. More »
Founder, Music Director (1964-1994)
Shulamit Ran, a native of Israel, began setting Hebrew poetry to music at the age of seven. By nine she was studying composition and piano with some of Israel ‘s most noted musicians, including composers Alexander Boskovich and Paul Ben-Haim, and within a few years she was having her works performed by professional musicians and orchestras. More »
In the past decade Cliff Colnot has emerged as a distinguished conductor and a musician of uncommon range.
One of few musicians to have studied orchestral repertory with Daniel Barenboim, Colnot has served as assistant conductor for Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Workshops for young musicians from Israel, Egypt, Syria, and other Middle Eastern countries. Colnot has also worked extensively with Pierre Boulez and has served as assistant conductor to Boulez at the Lucerne Festival Academy.
In addition to conducting Contempo and collaborating regularly with the internationally acclaimed contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird, Colnot has been principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s contemporary MusicNOW series since its inception and is principal conductor of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, an orchestra he has conducted since 1994. Colnot also conducts the DePaul University Symphony Orchestra and Wind Ensemble, and orchestras at Indiana University. He has appeared as a guest conductor with the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, the American Composers Orchestra, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Utah Symphony, and Ancora Chamber Orchestra, and has had collaborations with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), with whom he recorded Richard Wernick’s The Name of the Game for Bridge Records.
Colnot is also a master arranger. His orchestration of Shulamit Ran’s Three Fantasy Pieces for Cello and Piano was recorded by the English Chamber Orchestra. He was commissioned to arrange Adagio from Mahler’s Symphony No. 10, Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande (both published by Universal) and Manuel De Falla’s Three Cornered Hat for Elena Bashkirova and the chamber orchestra of the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival. For ICE and Julia Bentley, Colnot arranged Olivier Messiaen’s Chants de Terre et de Ciel for chamber orchestra and mezzo-soprano, also published by Universal. He has also been commissioned to write works for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Percussion Scholarship Group. His orchestration of Duke Ellington’s New World Coming was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Daniel Barenboim as piano soloist, and Colnot also arranged, conducted, and co-produced the CD Tribute to Ellington featuring Barenboim at the piano. He wrote music for the MGM/UA motion picture Hoodlum and has written for rock-and-roll, pop, and jazz artists Richard Marx, Yo-Yo Ma, Phil Ramone, Hugh Jackman, Leann Rimes, SheDaisy, Patricia Barber, Emerson Drive, and Brian Culbertson.
Colnot graduated with honors from Florida State University and in 1995 received the Ernst von Dohnányi Certificate of Excellence. He has also received the prestigious Alumni Merit Award from Northwestern University, where he earned his doctorate. In 2001 the Chicago Tribune named Cliff Colnot a “Chicagoan of the Year” in music, and in 2005 he received the William Hall Sherwood Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Arts. He has studied with master jazz teacher David Bloom and has taught jazz arranging at DePaul University and film scoring at Columbia College. He also teaches advanced orchestration at the University of Chicago. As a bassoonist, he was a member of the Lyric Opera Orchestra of Chicago, Music of the Baroque, and the Contemporary Chamber Players.
“Cliff Colnot conducted the excellent International Contemporary Ensemble in an alluring performance.” — Anthony Tommasini, New York Times
“To every score, conductor Cliff Colnot brought a dedication, virtuosity, and intensity of feeling new music needs but doesn’t often receive.” — John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune
“Everywhere [in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1] were signs of meticulous preparation and keen stylistic acuity.” — Michael Cameron, Chicago Tribune
Tim Munro, flutes
Michael J. Maccaferri, clarinets
Yvonne Lam, violin & viola
Nicholas Photinos, cello
Matthew Duvall, percussion
Lisa Kaplan, piano
eighth blackbird \ˈātth ˈblak-ˌbərd\ slang (orig. and chiefly U.S.).
1. verb. to act with commitment and virtuosity; to zap, zip, sock.
2. adjective. having fearless (yet irreverent) qualities.
3. noun. a flock of songbirds, common in urban areas since 1996.
eighth blackbird lives dangerously. The Chicago-based, two-time GRAMMY Award-winning sextet combines the finesse of a string quartet with the energy of a rock band and the audacity of a storefront theater company. Its musical aerobatics delight, provoke and entertain audiences around the world.
The lure of wet ink draws eighth blackbird into collaborations with a motley crew of composers, young and old, modernist and indie. 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.
During the 2011/12 season eighth blackbird tours Australia twice, making debuts at the Sydney Opera House and the Brisbane Festival, and with the symphony orchestras of Melbourne and Tasmania. The ensemble plays in New York (SONiC festival), Kansas City, Ithaca and Mexico City. Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire is presented at the Kennedy Center and the McAninch Arts Center. Chicago performances include a Reich-fest in Millennium Park, Composition Competition finals, a premiere by Nico Muhly, and a mini-festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
eighth blackbird holds ongoing Ensemble in Residence positions at the University of Richmond and the University of Chicago, and will commence a three-year, Mellon Foundation-funded term as Ensemble in Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music in Fall 2012. A fruitful, ongoing relationship with Chicago’s Cedille Records has produced four acclaimed recordings. The ensemble has won two Grammy Awards, for strange imaginary animals (Best Chamber Music Performance, 2008) and Lonely Motel: Music from Slide (Best Small Ensemble Performance, 2012).
eighth blackbird’s members hail from America’s Great Lakes, Keystone, Golden and Bay states, and Australia’s Sunshine State. There are four foodies, three beer snobs and one exercise junkie. The name “eighth blackbird” derives from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’s evocative, aphoristic poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (1917).
Simin Ganatra, violin
Sibbi Bernhardsson, violin
Masumi Per Rostad, viola
Brandon Vamos, cello
Recognized for its virtuosity, exuberant performance style, and often-daring repertory choices, over the past two decades the Pacifica Quartet has gained international stature as one of the finest chamber ensembles performing today. The Pacifica tours extensively throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia, performing regularly in the world’s major concert halls. Named the quartet-in-residence at Indiana University’s Jacob School of Music in March 2012, the Pacifica was also the quartet-in-residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009 – 2012) – a position previously held by the Guarneri String Quartet – and received the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance.
Formed in 1994, the Pacifica Quartet quickly won chamber music’s top competitions, including the 1998 Naumburg Chamber Music Award. In 2002 the ensemble was honored with Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award and the appointment to Lincoln Center’s CMS Two, and in 2006 was awarded a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, becoming only the second chamber ensemble so honored in the Grant’s long history. Also in 2006 the Quartet was featured on the cover of Gramophone and heralded as one of “five new quartets you should know about,” the only American quartet to make the list. And in 2009, the Quartet was named “Ensemble of the Year” by Musical America.
The Pacifica Quartet has carved a niche for itself as the preeminent interpreter of string quartet cycles, harnessing the group’s singular focus and incredible stamina to portray each composer’s evolution, often over the course of just a few days. Having given highly acclaimed performances of the complete Carter cycle in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Houston; the Mendelssohn cycle in Napa, Australia, New York, and Pittsburgh; and the Beethoven cycle in New York, Denver, St. Paul, Chicago, Napa, and Tokyo (in an unprecedented presentation of five concerts in three days at Suntory Hall), the Quartet presented the monumental Shostakovich cycle in Chicago and New York during the 2010-2011 season and in Montreal and at London’s Wigmore Hall in the 2011-2012 season. The Quartet has been widely praised for these cycles, with critics calling the concerts “brilliant,” “astonishing,” “gripping,” and “breathtaking.”
An ardent advocate of contemporary music, the Pacifica Quartet commissions and performs many new works, including those by Keeril Makan, in partnership with the Celebrity Series of Boston and the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, during the 2012-13 season, and Shulamit Ran, in partnership with the Music Accord consortium, London’s Wigmore Hall, and Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. In 2008 the Quartet released its Grammy Award-winning recording of Carter’s quartets Nos. 1 and 5 on the Naxos label; the 2009 release of quartets Nos. 2, 3, and 4 completed the two-CD set. In 2012 Cedille Records released the second of three CDs comprising the entire Shostakovich cycle, along with other contemporary Soviet works, to rave reviews: “The playing is nothing short of phenomenal.” (Daily Telegraph, London)
The members of the Pacifica Quartet live in Bloomington, IN, where they serve as quartet-in-residence and full-time faculty members at the Jacobs School of Music. Prior to their appointment, the Quartet was on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana from 2003 to 2012. The Pacifica Quartet also serves as resident performing artist at the University of Chicago.