Lisa Kaplan – Pianist in ‘Eighth Blackbird’
You have been described as “one of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet” – where did it all start?
It all started when we were students at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Nick, Michael, Matthew and myself are founding members of the group and we were asked to be a part of a small chamber group that ultimately became Eighth Blackbird. I still can’t believe it has been 20 years. When we formed at Oberlin, it was at a time when contemporary music was not championed the way it is today. However, Timothy Weiss, who was the conductor of the Contemporary Music Ensemble at Oberlin was responsible for putting us together. He was a supremely talented conductor, just 6 years older than us when we were students, and he had an infectious, passion and enthusiasm for music of living composers. I don’t think Tim knew when he put us all together that we would stay together and go on to become a professional group, but he definitely saw something in each of us that prompted him to ask us to join the ensemble.
What would you say is one difficulty in working in an ensemble of this size?
I suppose sometimes it is hard to make decisions about things, musical and otherwise. Funny thing is we actually vote on most issues when we have to make choices, and people are always asking us what we do when it’s tied. Oddly enough, it is rarely a tie!
Why do you think it is important to perform new works instead of the tried and true ‘old classics’?
Because people need to hear polished, passionate performances of music by living composers. We know what Mozart sounds like. What Bach sounds like. What Brahms sounds like. I love all those composers. But remember that they were performed in their own time. People need to know hear what David Lang sounds like. What Holly Harrison sounds like. What Amy Beth Kirsten sounds like. What Nico Muhly sounds like. What Ned McGowan sounds like. What Jennifer Higdon sounds like. These living, breathing composers are a part of our culture and they need exposure in order for audiences to begin to know their music too.
Do you have a current favorite contemporary composer?
That is always a tough question. I don’t really like playing favorites. I think that Ted Hearne is fantastically talented, unique and also political which I feel is important especially in the current, political climate (twilight zone!) of the United States. I think Amy Beth Kirsten also has an incredibly beautiful and creative aesthetic that is very original as well. There are so many talented folks and not enough time to learn all of their music. An excellent problem to have!
What would you say is the best thing about being a travelling/performing musician?
Traveling to other places and having the chance to perform is an incredibly opportunity for us to meet new and interesting people, as well as have the opportunity to play the repertoire that we are passionate about and have new people hear it all the time. I consider myself so incredibly lucky to have this “job.” It is a real dream for a musician, and I really try not to take it for granted.