Most concerts from Eighth Blackbird offer a smorgasbord of unexpected music. The contemporary ensemble from Chicago put together just such a program for its debut Sunday afternoon at the National Gallery of Art. Five of the eight pieces dated from the past decade.

The cumulative effect was more vivid than any individual work, all in the vein of impressionistic sketches. In Nina Shekhar’s “Ice ‘n’ SPICE,” high static notes in flute, violin and bowed vibraphone cooled the clangorous heat of Zachary Good’s cantillation-tinged clarinet accompanied by loud percussion. In “Eroding,” Fjóla Evans depicted a rushing river with waves of tremolo in piano and vibes, covering and uncovering faster motifs in the other instruments.

In “Electric Aroma,” Viet Cuong paired flute and clarinet, clawing at each other with dissonance, to the tango-like accompaniment of piano and percussion. Holly Harrison, an Australian who also plays drums in a rock duo, drew on boogie-woogie and heavy metal in “Lobster Tales and Turtle Soup,” contrasted with tender melodic passages from violinist Elly Toyoda and cellist Nick Photinos. The musicians periodically shouted lines from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” adding to the surreal quality.

Eighth Blackbird commissioned all four of these pieces in recent years, spotlighting not only the group’s virtuosity but also their crucial role as a catalyst for new music. Older pieces rounded out the program. Andy Akiho wrote “Karakurenai” for his own instrument, steel pan, but Eighth Blackbird adapted its ostinato patterns, at times reminiscent of a cellphone ringtone, to the ensemble’s formation, minus flutist Molly Barth. Pianist Lisa Kaplan adapted David Lang’s “Wed,” from the “Memory Pieces” for piano, to include the tinges of percussion implied by its repeated chordal textures.

Jonathan Bailey Holland’s “The Clarity of Cold Air” conjured a wintry landscape with clustered long notes that amassed and melted away, metallic glints answered by wind sounds blown through the flute and clarinet. Julius Eastman’s “Stay On It” was the program’s oldest work, composed in 1973, featuring a truly deafening clatter-fueled fracas from percussionist Matthew Duvall. Backed by the echoing stone of the West Garden Court, it was dangerously brutal on the ears.