Chamber music carries its history wherever it goes. It’s right there in the genre tag—the chamber in question belonging to medieval palaces affluent enough to afford commissioned musicians, yet preferring their entertainers in a slimmed-down setting, showcases held in the more private confines of the castle’s smaller quadrant in lieu of a performance in the great hall. The modern audience can sympathize: no doubt many a listener has been subjected to the strenuous demands of great hall upkeep. Forsaking flippantry, the foremost task for contemporary classical musicians is to bridge the gap between their rich musical tradition and the working-man’s modesty. Pop music has done much to legitimize folk expression over the course of the twentieth century, and for chamber music it takes groups like eighth blackbird to offer the crossover classical appeal necessary to enliven a new generation of listeners. While the troupe maintains some of the stuffier elements (they favor formal attire, their faces are occasionally obscured by scores) the programming speaks for itself, offering a soaring, swirling, simmering take on contemporary compositions that have as much to offer the uninitiated as the expert. This performance, entitled “Myth and Awakening,” opens Contempo’s forty-ninth year with an evening full of Chicago premieres, notably Brett Dean’s “Sextet (Old Kings in Exile).” The piece, co-commissioned by eighth blackbird, is as playful as it is mournful, the subtitle referring to a memoir about a father struggling with dementia. Of equal interest is Anubis Quartet’s take on Lei Liang’s “Yuan” for saxophone quartet. Perhaps chosen to showcase the broad reach available for players of this caliber, the performers will indulge a full range of expression, from piercing squawks to soothing harmony, allowing the music to breathe the same air as its more earthy jazz siblings. New attendees will be amazed at the relevancy of these performances, and seasoned veterans will be delighted to put Contempo back on the calendar. (Kenneth Preski)
February 4 at Logan Center, 915 East 60th, (773)702-2787. 7:30pm. $25, $5 for students.