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One-Eighth Blackbird Comes to Stay – for Two Years

by Jerome Weeks 1 Sep 2011 11:43 AM

Matt Albert, violinist/co-founder of the Grammy-winning new-music group eighth blackbird, is a new two-year artist-in-residence at SMU.


eighth blackbird, the Grammy-winning new-music ensemble that was one of the first recipients of SMU’s Meadows Prize, visited Dallas for four weeks as part of that award’s residency last year. They worked with students in classes, workshops and rehearsals and the group performed live concerts.

Now, violinist and co-founder Matt Albert has accepted a two-year appointment as artist-in-residence with the Meadows School of the Arts’ music division – beginning this fall semester. He had already made plans to leave eighth blackbird when SMU approached him with the job offer. He will work as the school’s director of chamber ensembles.

This, by the way, is one reason you have such awards — to bring artists here, make connections with them and get them (and their colleagues) to come back.

The name of the group, by the way, derives from the famous Wallace Stevens poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

Watch the Art&Seek on Think TV video interview with the lively, easy-going Matt Albert:

The full press release follows:


DALLAS (SMU) – Violinist and violist Matt Albert, co-founder of the Grammy-winning new music ensemble eighth blackbird, has been named to a two-year appointment as Artist-in-Residence in the Division of Music at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, beginning with the fall 2011 semester.

Albert and eighth blackbird spent four weeks at SMU during the 2010-11 school year as recipients of the inaugural Meadows Prize, a new international arts residency launched by the Meadows School of the Arts in fall 2009. During their visits to SMU, eighth blackbird members worked with Meadows music students in workshops, master classes, rehearsals and public performances.

Albert had already made plans to leave eighth blackbird by May 2011, and worked with the ensemble to hire a new violinist; when SMU offered him a job, he jumped at the chance. “The timing was perfect,” said Albert. “Playing with eighth blackbird has meant the world to me – we formed in college, so we grew up together, and I will always be proud of how much we accomplished.  But, after 15 years, I felt I was ready to move on and explore more of what the musical world has to offer. I loved working with the students at SMU last year, and the chance to teach here on a regular basis while also continuing to perform with orchestras around the country was a fantastic opportunity.”

At SMU, Albert will serve as director of chamber ensembles, working with both classical chamber performers and with SYZYGY, the Meadows new music ensemble. He also plans to arrange chamber concerts with SMU faculty colleagues.

“We are delighted to have Matt Albert join us as Artist-in-Residence,” said Sam Holland, director of the Division of Music at the Meadows School. “Over the past 15 years, Matt and eighth blackbird have accomplished a remarkable feat: they made difficult contemporary classic music exciting, entertaining, approachable and profitable. In his work with our students last year, Matt showed them innovative ways of presenting music and making a living in the modern musical world. He is a wonderful role model for our students and an outstanding teacher.”

Albert, a native of Winchester, Virginia, founded eighth blackbird in 1996 with five other music students at Oberlin College and Conservatory. The group received numerous awards, including first prizes at the Naumburg, Concert Artists Guild, Coleman and Fischoff competitions. He recorded with the ensemble for Cedille Records, with their disc strange imaginary animals receiving the 2008 Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance. Outside of eighth blackbird his duo performances with violinist Andrew McCann have taken him across the United States from Virginia to California, with multiple appearances in their home state of Illinois. He has performed with Meredith Monk, Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and as on onstage violinist for Evanston Light Opera Works. He also performed on alternative rock band Wilco’s new CD, The Whole Love, to be released in late September 2011. In addition, he is a member of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, where he currently holds the principal second violin chair under Marin Alsop, and he teaches violin and viola at the Festival Internacional de Música Erudita de Piracicaba, in Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil.  His principal teachers include Kenneth Sarch, Gregory Fulkerson, Kurt Sassmannshaus and Almita Vamos. Albert holds degrees from Oberlin College and Conservatory (B.Mus. violin and B.A. English), the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (A.D. chamber music) and Northwestern University School of Music (M.M.violin).