Eighth Blackbird has so decisively changed the new-music landscape that the least listeners can do is meet the group more than halfway at each Philadelphia reappearance. That attitude was needed at its Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concert on Friday at the Kimmel Center.
Titled Hand Eye, the program was a series of new pieces inspired, Pictures at an Exhibition-style, by artworks in the Detroit collection of Maxine and Stuart Frankel.
The composers came from a collective known as Sleeping Giant, and conspired to make the program feel like a suite, with pieces eliding into each other, forcing you to give up on the usual left-brain anchors of always knowing what piece was being played. The art that inspired each piece was identified but not seen - and, we're told, didn't need to be. The music wasn't about surface description.
Of course, I did post-concert research on how close my unguided, purely musical perceptions were to the inspirational source.
With Ted Hearne's By-By Huey, I was way off, the propulsive keyboard-percussion layering with a lot of brief, punchy "drive-by" effects suggesting a road-rage-prone night on an urban expressway. In fact, Hearne's inspiration - the Robert Arneson portrait of Tyrone Robinson (who murdered Black Panthers founder Huey P. Newton) - is a quietly creepy photo-realist rendering of the killer's cold stare.
Christopher Cerrone's bright, minimalist-based South Catalina was inspired partly by the composer's stay in Southern California, though what I responded to in the piece was the long-breathed flute writing that almost sounded like a Bach chorale slowed down and enveloping the piece's restless invention in a benevolent embrace. No hint of that in the program.
Jacob Cooper's Cast arose from Leonardo Drew's light-gray casts of everyday objects (imagine your broom closet covered with volcanic ash). But what did that have to do with the music's ethereal payoff, with the kind of meditative concentration one associates with Olivier Messiaen at his best (but with the composer's own kind of undulating layers and vivid strokes of color)? I'm not complaining: I loved these pieces and don't care where they came from.
I connected less with the rest - Andrew Norman's Mine, Mime, Meme, Timo Andres' Checkered Shade and Robert Honstein's Conduit - perhaps through no fault of the music: When the entire concert is new and challenging, not everything will register, even in performances as evolved as Eighth Blackbird's. But did charismatic flutist Nathalie Joachim have to take a selfie with the Perelman Theater audience? Isn't the selfie thing stale?