Claire Chase, who won the Avery Fisher prize in 2017, is described "in a word" by various colleagues and collaborators.
Claire Chase is a new music pioneer for our time and beyond. Armed with her concert flute, she is breaking down existing perceptions of classical music at all levels — from developing education programs for schoolkids which contextualize all forms of music, to presenting avant-garde performances halfway across the world, to festival co-artistic directorship at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (more on that later).
When Musical Toronto reached out to her for this interview, Chase was in the midst of performances in Japan and Europe. Between ensuing engagements with the MacArthur Fellows Program, celebrating her 39th birthday during the week, and co-delivering a Composer-Performer workshop at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University, Chase found time to write back to us. She takes us through her artistic philosophy and future plans, touching upon the help she’s received on her journey, one which cuts across the baseball diamond along the way.
In April, Chase was awarded the Avery Fisher Prize in recognition of her contributions to classical music performance. She now shares this honour with Murray Perahia, Richard Stoltzman, the Emerson String Quartet, and Gil Shaham, to name but a selection from the Prize’s star-studded roster. In many ways, her nomination represents a sharp break from the American classical music pantheon, a position which only adds to her sense of purpose. “What we are seeing now is the beginning of a mainstream acknowledgement of what has been happening all along. […] I see [the Avery Fisher Prize] as an award for the work and for the field of change-makers at large; I’m just one little worker-ant among them […] the novelty of new directions has worn off, the new tradition is a consistently evolving art form.”
Claire Chase, who founded the International Contemporary Ensemble, has given the premieres of more than 100 flute works, and was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2012, received a new accolade on Wednesday: the $100,000 Avery Fisher Prize.
Ms. Chase, 38, became the first flutist to receive the Fisher Prize, which is awarded every few years to recognize musical excellence, vision and leadership (and whose payoff was increased this year from $75,000). The prize comes half a year after Ms. Chase stepped down from leading the International Contemporary Ensemble, the vital new-music collective commonly known as ICE, to focus more on her performing career.
“As someone who has committed my life’s work to the cause of new and experimental music and to advocating for composers, performers and artist collectives,” Ms. Chase said in a statement, “I embrace this award as recognition of that cause as a whole and the tremendous work of the new-music community at large.”
She is in the midst of “Density 2036,” a 22-year project to commission works for her instrument. Another upcoming project will be “PAN,” a collaboration with the composer Marcos Balter and the director Doug Fitch based on the Greek god (and early wind-instrument enthusiast). It is expected to have its premiere next season in New York.
via Asheville Grit
Asheville Grit (AG): How did you first come to experimental/avant-garde music? You said during your show that you discovered the Varèse piece at age 13. How did you react to it?
Claire Chase (CC): My experience with that piece was a before and after moment of my life. My teacher brought the piece into my lesson and put it down on the stand. It was two pages of music, and I looked at it and said, "This doesn't look like music." There are lots of really low notes and really high notes, lots of swells and only one trill, and I was like, "That's stupid, where's all the fast stuff?"
And he said, "Do you want to hear it?" And I said, "Yeah I want to hear it," and he said "Ok, stand back.'" And we're in my parents' living room, this little carpeted tiny living room, and people are walking around and doing a million things, and at the same time, for the next four and a half minutes, I was completely transfixed. It was one of the most powerful four and a half minutes of my life, and I didn't know what was happening to me. I didn't know what I was hearing, I didn't know what kind of music it was, I didn't know what to call it, but the effect it had on me was profound. I was like, "Whatever this is, I want to do this. I want to learn how to do this and make music like this and have this kind of effect on other people. I want to share it." Because all of a sudden the flute was not just a flute. It was a percussion instrument. It had the power of a brass instrument, the sensuousness of the human voice, the brutal, raw engine of city sounds and sirens.
So that was when I got bitten by the bug, and it was totally visceral and emotional. I became completely obsessed with the piece and I didn't want to play anything else. My poor parents had to listen to me practice it, and then I wanted to play it at my junior high school graduation, not because I was trying to be contrarian—I didn't even know that it was avant-garde. It just, to me, was the coolest thing I'd ever heard. It was beautiful and terrifying and moving, and I wanted other people to have that experience. I thought that playing it on a football field with a bunch of jeering adolescents would be great. I was like, "I'm gonna convert them!". And I wasn't ever allowed to do that, and maybe that's for the best. But I think that if you tell an adolescent not to do something it's the surest way they'll continue to do it. I've played the piece a thousand times.
Some were band directors, some students. Many performed regularly, a few hadn’t played in years. They ranged in age from 13 to 80 years old.
But the dozens of people who gathered Saturday morning at Ordway Concert Hall in St. Paul each carried the same small instrument — the flute.
Not a violin or French horn in the bunch. This piece calls for 100 flutists to roam the concert hall during a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra performance Wednesday. Despite the grand setting, amateurs were welcome, the nonprofit orchestra assured those interested. So women and men, teens and retirees came to rehearse.
“I want you to forget everything you ever learned about flute playing,” superstar flutist Claire Chase told the group. “We are trying precisely not to make a tone.
The very first thing contemporary music rock star Claire Chase told us flutists ready to play last Saturday morning at the Ordway Concert Hall was "Forget everything you've learned." And with that, it was game on.
We're all part-time flutists — students, players in community orchestras, and music-lovers — who accepted the call to participate in a work for four soloists and at least 100 migrating flutists. It would seem Minnesota outdid itself in the above-average department as we nearly doubled the quota: 189.
Under the auspices of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO), with matching funds from the Knight Foundation, Clair Chase is soloist and guide in a performance of a work by Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino, Cutting the Circle of Sounds. The piece is eerily resonant with current events and the chaos and confusion of recent days. The flute soloists — SPCO's Julia-Bogorad Kogan and Alecia McQueerey, the University of Minnesota's Immanuel Davis along with Chase — play from their perches in four corners of the hall while the chorus of flutists migrate throughout the hall, evoking a kind of swirling and displaced populace.
Claire Chase wants to show us what solo flute music sounds like when you take away the flute and the soloist.
Or when the score is danced, the sound engineer performs, and the flute's played as a drum set. For Density 2036: part iv, at the Kitchen from December 1 to 2, Chase puts her instruments in dialogue with other instruments, artists — and absences. "The life and the body of the performer are necessarily ephemeral things," she says. "The body of music that we're creating to go through these two ephemeral things is anything but ephemeral."
It will be the fourth installment of a 23-year cycle of works for solo flute commissioned by Chase and inspired by pioneering French composer Edgard Varèse's foundational 1936 flute solo, Density 21.5 (named for the density of platinum, of which Varèse's flute was made, in grams per cubic centimeter). "I fell madly in love with the piece when I was thirteen. Its raw, visceral energy blew the roof off of my adolescent imagination," Chase says. "I tried to program it on my junior high school graduation ceremony, on a football field in a Southern Californian public school, but was told to play 'Danny Boy' instead."
Now, with a 2012 MacArthur grant under her belt, Chase can finally devote herself to the piece. Her Density project's first installment arrived in 2013 and included works by Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Going forward, Chase has only one rule: "I don't want to recycle ideas, vocabularies, [or] languages." Audiences will find that part iv diverges visually as well as musically from previous sections, with streamlined stage design and — the critical feature — more focus on Chase's collaborators. "This cycle really blows open the notion of what a solo performer is," says Chase. "In my book, a solo artist is always a collaborative artist, because a solo project is never really a solo project. Even when I'm working with a composer, they're up there onstage with me. If not in physical form, spiritually they're up there."
ICE’s Founder, Claire Chase, Will Relinquish Leadership Role
It was 15 years ago on a bus ride between Elyria, Ohio, and Chicago — probably somewhere near Gary, Ind., she thinks — that the flutist Claire Chase decided to found the International Contemporary Ensemble, known as ICE. Quite a lot has happened since then.
The ensemble has performed hundreds of new works, staking a strong claim as the nation’s pre-eminent new-music group in the process. Its annual budget has grown from $603 — her holiday catering tips underwrote that first year — to north of $2 million. Ms. Chase won a MacArthur Foundationfellowship. And ICE now moves seamlessly among small nightclubs, schools and some of the nation’s premier stages, performing at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, at the Ojai Music Festival in California and, on Nov. 1, at Carnegie Hall.
The group is about to embark on one of its biggest transitions yet: Ms. Chase is stepping down from her leadership position there to become, in her words, a member of the band, and to be able to devote more time to her blossoming career as a soloist.
“It’s been an aspiration of the group since the very beginning to evolve into being an artist’s collective,” Ms. Chase said in an interview. “And after 15 years I think we can say that we’ve achieved that — and that it’s time to not be founder-led. It’s time for me to be a member of the band, and a supporter and cheerleader and advocate for the group’s work.”
CLASSICAL MUSIC | OCTOBER 5, 2015 ISSUE
The Kitchen, Sept. 29-Oct. 2
As the founder, co-artistic director, and burning heart and soul of the International Contemporary Ensemble, the flutist Claire Chase is a model for a new generation of American classical musicians—her career embodies entrepreneurship, technical virtuosity, and performance charisma. Chase is also quite serious about leaving a legacy: she is now into year three of “Density 2036,” a twenty-two-year project to commission new works to mark the centenary of Edgard Varèse’s 1936 piece, “Density 21.5,” a bulwark of the solo-flute repertory. Her three-part engagement at the Kitchen (Sept. 29-Oct. 2) brings back music from the first two years of the project, by such composers as Philip Glass and George Lewis, with brand-new pieces on the final night by Jason Eckardt, Dai Fujikura, and the legendary Pauline Oliveros.
(Cleveland, OH – February 17, 2016) The Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) will add Claire Chase, founder and co‐artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), to its illustrious list of Honorary Doctorates at its 91st Commencement Ceremony on May 14, 2016 in Kulas Hall. During the ceremony Chase will deliver the Commencement Address to the 2016 graduating class.
“Ms. Chase’s successful and multifaceted career is a shining example of the possibilities a degree in music can bring,” said CIM Interim President Gary Hanson. “Her leadership, dedication to new music and new audiences will be an inspiration to our graduates ready to embark on their own musical journeys.”
Chase has been heralded throughout the music community for her passion for and support of new and experimental music. She received her B.M. from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and in 2001 she founded ICE, where she currently serves as the co‐artistic director and performer with the ensemble. Since its founding, ICE has premiered more than 650 works, making new music and audience engagement one of its hallmarks. ICE was recognized with the Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center in 2010 and the Ensemble of the Year Award in 2014 from Musical America Worldwide. In 2012 Chase was awarded a McArthur Fellowship for her work with ICE.
As a performer Chase has garnered praise by The New York Times as having “extravagant technique, broad stylistic range and penetrating musicality,” and was dubbed “the young star of the modern flute,” by The New Yorker. She has performed throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia and has released three solo albums, Aliento (2010), Terrestre (2012) and Density (2013).
The 2016 Commencement Ceremony will be streamed live online at cim.edu.
ABOUT THE CLEVELAND INSTITUTE OF MUSIC
Founded in 1920, the Cleveland Institute of Music is one of seven independent music conservatories in the country and is known for superior orchestral, chamber, composition, voice and opera music programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The vision for CIM is to be the center for the education of the complete musician of the 21st century. Our world‐renowned faculty, which includes the principals of The Cleveland Orchestra, are eminent educators and practicing musicians who perform internationally with orchestras, ensembles, and opera companies. CIM’s Preparatory and Continuing Education Division offers an outlet for music creativity and exploration to more than 1,300 students of all ages. Annually, CIM students, faculty, alumni and guest artists present more than 300 music events for the Greater Cleveland community, many are free of charge.
Claire Chase and Steven Schick appointed Co-Artistic Directors of Summer Classical Music at The Banff Centre /
Banff, Alberta, March 17, 2016 -- The Banff Centre is proud to announce the appointment of Claire Chase and Steven Schick as Co-Artistic Directors of Summer Classical Music at The Banff Centre commencing with the 2017 season.
Chase and Schick will build on the visionary tenure of Barry Shiffman who has guided both classical and other music programming at The Banff Centre for the last 10 years. The Banff Centre isdelighted to share that Barry has decided to remain a key pillar of its classical music programming through the triennial Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC), which will celebrate its 12th competition this September, having accepted the invitation to continue as Director of BISQC through the 2019 competition.
Both former faculty members at The Banff Centre, Chase and Schick will create programming starting with 2017 summer season. Programming will have a strong chamber music focus in addition to reflecting new approaches to the development of classical musicians, both from a skills-training and also a career development perspective. It will emphasize peer-to-peer feedback and collaboration as a pedagogical model. Programming will continue The Banff Centre’s commitment to mentorship, performance, recording opportunities. The co-artistic directors will also provide participants with the support of composers, new classical work and the investigation of performance models that engage new and established audiences.
“I know that both Claire and Steven will bring truly inspirational programming that builds on and honours the strong legacy of classical music at The Banff Centre and I look forward to sharing early details of this programming with our artists, audience and supporters in summer 2016,” commented Carolyn Warren, vice-president, Arts at The Banff Centre.
"Generations of artists, from Canada and around the world, have come to Banff for inspiration and great music-making. I am lucky to have been among them. The chance, now, to come to the Banff Centre as co-Artistic Director of the Summer Classical Music Program with my friend, the extraordinary musician Claire Chase, is simply one of the great opportunities of my lifetime,” commented Steven Schick. “With our terrific partners in Banff, Claire and I will strengthen the legacy of the Banff Centre and embrace with open hearts the spirit of adventure, invention, and collaboration that has made it such a special place in the world."
"I am beyond honored to join my long-time collaborator, dear friend, Steven Schick, in this thrilling new adventure. With Steven and The Banff Centre team, I am deeply excited to build on the rich legacy of the Summer Classical Music Program and to collaborate in creating a vibrant, dynamic 21st century artistic and educational environment at the Centre," commented Claire Chase.
For more information about music programs currently offered at The Banff Centre, visit banffcentre.ca/music
About The Banff Centre:
The Banff Centre’s mission is inspiring creativity. Thousands of artists, leaders, and researchers from across Canada and around the world participate in programs at The Banff Centre every year. Through its multidisciplinary programming, The Banff Centre provides them with the support they need to create, to develop solutions, and to make the impossible possible. www.banffcentre.ca
About Claire Chase:
Flautist Claire Chase, described by The New Yorker as “the young star of the modern flute”, is a soloist, collaborative artist and a founder of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). Over the past decade she has given the world premieres of over 100 new works for flute, many of them tailor-made for her, and in 2012 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. Chase was a faculty member in The Banff Centre’s Performance Today residency (2015) which saw musicians explore new ways to perform classical music today. She has performed through the US, Europe, Asia and the Americas, and recently began Density 2036, a 23-year project to commission a new body of repertory for the flute leading up to the 100th anniversary of Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5 (1936). In 2016 Chase was announced to receive an honorary doctorate from the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music.
About Steven Schick:
Steven Schick is percussionist and conductor who is a Distinguished Professor of Music, Reed Family Presidential Chair in Music University of California, San Diego, and is Music Director and Conductor at La Jolla Symphony and Chorus in addition to being Music director of the 2015 Ojai Festival of Classical and Contemporary music. Described by Alex Ross at The New Yorker as "One of the supreme living virtuosos, not only of percussion but of any instrument", Schick has a rich history with the Centre having worked in the summer with current director of summer programs Barry Shiffman as, Director of the Roots and Rhizomes percussion Residency (2009, 2011, 2014) as well as being a faculty member in The Banff Centre’s Masterclasses in Strings and Winds and Fall/Winter music programs.
By CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM
OCT. 4, 2015
Dressed in denim overalls and red socks, a polishing cloth in hand, she fussed over the instruments that had been set up in a cluster of stands at the center of the space, devoting a few extra moments to buffing the contrabass flute which, six feet tall, towered over her. That flute was in turn dwarfed by a neon light sculpture on the back wall that echoed the instrument’s shape, forming a one-armed abstraction of an ankh, the Egyptian hieroglyph signifying breath of life. Eventually, Ms. Chase picked up a standard concert flute, climbed halfway up a ladder in a far corner of the stage and began to play Edgard Varèse’s “Density 21.5.”
Humility and hubris blend in unexpected ways in Ms. Chase’s work. Friday’s hourlong show was presented as Part 3 in a 22-year commissioning bonanza, “Density 2036,” during which she is seeking to create an entire new repertory of works for solo flute. The title refers to Varèse’s groundbreaking flute solo from 1936. By the time of its centenary Ms. Chase, who will then be 58, hopes to have redefined flute music for a new generation.
Friday’s performance of “Density 2036: part iii” made no secret of its ambitions, even as it suggested a work in progress. The world premieres Ms. Chase presented ran the full gamut from mystery to irreverence, from the shamanistic “Lila” by Dai Fujikura, with its ghostly lyrical bass flute melodies, to the joyfully unhinged silliness of Pauline Oliveros’s “Intensity 20.15,” a protracted sound tantrum for which Ms. Chase spurned the flute altogether. Instead, she unleashed her virtuosity in intricate vocalizations and gleeful explosions of noise, electronically distorted, which she drew from all manner of instruments, objects and body parts — even the knees of a front-row listener.
Digital processing added a halo of alienation to her playing in Francesca Verunelli’s “The Famous Box Trick” for bass flute and electronics. Nathan Davis’s “Limn” for bass flute, contrabass flute and electronics employed extended techniques to produce expressive sounds of painful fragility.Jason Eckardt’s “The Silenced,” billed as “a monodrama for solo flute,” worked with similarly brittle sounds and amplified breathing patterns in unsettling ways.
As the neon symbol in the background seemed to suggest, any exploration of flute music is also a study in human breathing and the interaction of that breath with the physical world. Thoughtfully choreographed by the director David Michalek and beautifully lit by Nicholas Houfek, Ms. Chase’s one-woman journey highlighted the flute’s adaptability to fluctuating expressions of energy, density and resonance.
by Mark Swed
on April 6, 2015 at 4:00 am
Claire Chase, a flutist and MacArthur "genius," on Saturday afternoon did what only a brilliant flutist and MacArthur "genius" could do: She turned UCLA's Schoenberg Hall into a giant lung.
It is unlikely that this rare feat of oxygenation attracted much notice from the scientists who work nearby in the campus' biology and chemistry laboratories. But Chase, founder and director of ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), is both a force of musical nature and a force of the flute. As the centerpiece for her "solo" recital sponsored by the school's Center for the Art of Performance, Chase performed and organized the West Coast premiere of Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino's "Il Cerchio Tagliato dei Suoni" (Cutting the Circle of Sounds), written for four flute soloists and 100 migrating flutists and meant to last 70 minutes.
Whether she attracted the attention of scientists or not, she did bring out the fire marshal. Sciarrino's 1977 immersive flute extravaganza calls for the four soloists to be placed around the hall. The migrant flutists take over the aisles. But the idea of 100 flutists blocking the exits freaks out the fire department.
At first, only 40 were allowed, then the marshal relented and let in a couple of dozen more as long as they kept moving. Perhaps this is why the performance was on the short side, lasting a mere 55 enthralling minutes.
The hall was darkened, with spotlights on Chase, who was onstage, and the other soloists (Michael Matsuno, Erin McKibben and Christine Tavolacci) spread around the hall. The work operated as a kind of large-scale call and response, causing long drones to float around the room or sharp attacks to ricochet off the walls. At one point, Chase conveyed what might have been the call of a lonely loon, answered by loons from afar. Sometimes Schoenberg was filled with sound of breathing, creating a kind of theater of the lung.
The migrants — ranging in age from 10 to seventysomething — roamed or paraded the aisles, their flutes illuminated from inside by LED lights inserted in their instruments. They were atmosphere. They provided cushions for drones or feathery flutter-tongue background that made all the air around them vibrate as though a gentle aural breeze were blowing.
At the end, birdlike migrants transformed into what appeared to be a chorus of panting dogs, only these were panting dogs who could play the flute. It was unlike anything anyone had surely heard before or even ever imagined.
Putting this together is the kind of feat in which Chase excels. Her work with ICE goes beyond being a flutist in the ensemble, commissioning new works or managing what has become the most impressive and sophisticated new music ensemble of its type in New York. She has also helped make ICE a model of outreach and education activities. Through Skype and email, she gathered her migrants from L.A., San Diego, Santa Barbara and Brooklyn. Sciarrino's "Cerchio" was then put together in public workshops Thursday and Friday at the Hammer Museum. Amateurs were welcome.
The prelude for "Cerchio" was a short, meditative work, "Alone," written last year for Chase by Brazilian composer Marcos Balter. "Alone" was not, as almost nothing in this recital was, alone. It involved a percussionist at the audience's left playing wine glasses.
For the second half of the recital before a small but enthusiastic crowd, Chase offered four pieces from her magnificent latest CD, "Density." The works were very different but flowed seamlessly. Chase can seem almost giddy in her enthusiasms when she speaks to the audience. But with flutes (she had them in all sizes from piccolo to bass) in hand she is a staggering virtuoso who plays with the cocky assurance of a rock star.
She began the second half with Steve Reich's "Vermont Counterpoint," for solo flute and 10 pre-recorded flutes, casually walking onstage after the recording had already begun and then jumping right into the complex rhythmic layers. She riffed a bridge into Balter's "Pessoa," a sumptuous score for six bass flutes (five of them pre-recorded), an ocean of overlapping puffy low notes.
With Mario Diaz de León's "Luciform" for solo flute and electronics, she then moved more into the aural realms of outer space. Here, as in everything that had come before, Chase had the benefit of Levy Lorenzo's sound engineering, which not only made her amplified flute sound natural but also balanced her perfectly with electronics, as well as Sciarrino's fluttery flute hordes.
Chase returned to Earth with an incisive performance of Edgar Varèse's "Density 21.5," a classic flute solo (and her only real solo) from 1936 that flutists regard as having put the oxygen in modern flute music. On Saturday, the levels of the molecule in the flute universe never seemed higher.
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
The American Composers Forum Board of Directors has voted to present its 2015 “Champion of New Music” award to three recipients: conductor Michael Morgan, flutist and director of the International Contemporary Ensemble Claire Chase, and the American Composers Orchestra at public ceremonies this year in Oakland, Brooklyn, and New York City.
The “Champion of New Music” award was established by ACF in 2005 as a national mark of recognition to honor individuals or ensembles that have made a significant contribution to the work and livelihoods of contemporary composers. ACF President and CEO John Nuechterlein will present the awards at three events in the coming months.
The award to Michael Morgan will be given on February 20, 2015, during a concert by the Oakland East Bay Symphony in Oakland, California.
The award to Claire Chase will be given on April 21, 2015, at a special anniversary event for ICE in Brooklyn, New York.
The award to the American Composers Orchestra will be given on May 7, 2015, at the Underwood Reading Sessions at the DiMenna Center in New York City.
Michael Morgan has served as music director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony since 1990. OEBS comprises not only a professional orchestra, but also members of the Oakland Symphony Chorus and Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra, and its staff, board members, and community volunteers. OEBS aims to make classical music accessible, particularly to those individuals in the community who might otherwise never hear live symphonic music. Morgan’s commitment to new works by American composers is well documented, and under his leadership OEBS won an ASCAP award for Adventurous Programming in 2006. While a student at Oberlin studying composition, Morgan spent a summer at Tanglewood as a student of Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa, and worked with Leonard Bernstein. In 1980, he won the Hans Swarovsky International Conductors Competition in Vienna, Austria, and became assistant conductor of the St Louis Symphony under Leonard Slatkin. In 1986, Georg Solti chose him to become the assistant conductor of the Chicago Symphony, a position he held for five years. As a guest conductor he has appeared with most of America’s major orchestras.
Flutist Claire Chase, a 2012 MacArthur Fellow, is a soloist, collaborative artist, and activist for new music. Over the past decade she has given the world premieres of over 100 new works for flute, many of them tailor-made for her. In 2014 she began Density 2036, a project to commission, premiere, and record an entirely new program of pieces for flute every year until 2036, the 100th anniversary of the eponymous and seminal piece by Edgard Varèse. Chase is the founder and co-artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble, which she formed in 2001 with the goal of creating the United States’s first large-scale chamber ensemble dedicated to new and experimental music. ICE, whose artist-driven nonprofit structure, alternative concert presentations, and educational initiatives have served as innovative models within the new music field, is a uniquely structured, modular ensemble comprised of thirty dynamic and versatile young performers which has now given more than 500 premiere performances all over the world.
via Q2 Music
Published: January 2, 2015
Edgard Varèse is one of the most visionary and influential musical mavericks of all time. Arriving in the United States from France in 1915, Varèse became a central figure in the promotion of new music – founding the International Composers Guild and mounting numerous performances – and a volcanic, uncompromising pioneer in modern and electronic music.
In this far-reaching, three-hour interview, guest host Claire Chase (flutist and co-artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble) speaks with Chou Wen-chung,Varèse's long-time assistant and confidant. In addition to being a composer himself, Chou is the current executor of the late composer's music and resident of the former Varèse homestead in Greenwich Village. The interview audio contains complete recordings of many of Varèse's works, in performances chosen by Chou.
Chou addresses harmful misconceptions and longstanding rumors about Varèse, how he became devoted to a mentor whose music he initially compared to the "slaughtering of a hog," and what meanings lay beneath the late composer's wish to have music that "will flow as a river flows."
Recordings included above courtesy of London/Decca's "Varèse: The Complete Works" (1998) with Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra / Asko Ensemble under the direction of Riccard Chailly and Deutsche Grammophon's "Boulez Conducts Varèse" with Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez.
GUESTS: Wen-chung Chou
HOSTED BY: Claire Chase
EDITORS: Curtis Macdonald
on January 8, 2015 at 6:00 am
Claire Chase is like a nuclear-powered perpetual motion machine. We managed to slow her down long enough to talk about her upcoming keynote at The New Music Gathering, Feldman’s For Philip Guston, OpenICE, and more.
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS AND PLANS FOR THE NEW MUSIC GATHERING?
I am enchanted by the promise of this conference, and I can’t believe I’m saying that! I would so much rather be doing the work than talking about doing the work. But this is special. It is artist-organized, artist-run, and it is thoughtfully and courageously programmed with performances by doers both large and small, across a wonderfully wide spectrum. My sense is that its very presence has already opened up a refreshingly porous space for interchange about the state of our art, about the difficulties we face, and most importantly about new ways that we can support each other. Let’s hope it’s the first of an annual tradition of anti-conferences around the subject of new music, true “gatherings.” And I hope we can keep it weird.
At NMG, I’ll be playing selections from Density ii, and delivering the opening keynote. I am excited about exploring, in the context of the contemporary music movement, this marvelously complex and turbulent year 2015. Poet Anne Carson has famously said “It is easier to tell a story of how people wound one another than of what binds them together.” I want to talk about what binds us together.
YOU’VE UNDERTAKEN A 22-YEAR PROJECT WITH DENSITY 2036. WHAT?
The more I live with this four minute masterpiece the more I love it, and the more astounded I am at how timeless it is, how it teaches me every time I play it, and how many burning questions it leaves unanswered. I’m reading Liz Lerman’s Hiking the Horizontal, a brilliant collection of essays about making dances, engaging communities, and the relentless process of self-interrogation that informs any artistic practice. She recounts a wonderful story about asking a Nobel laureate what drives his work with fruit flies. “I am fueled by my ignorance,” he responds. I just love this. This is how I feel about Density, that it fuels my curiosity about all of the things I do not yet know. Will I stumble upon the next great flute solo? How will we even know? What will the ‘newest’ of new flute music sound like next year, in 2018, in 2025? Will we even call it music? Will we call it concert music? What is a concert? Who comes? Who cares? How do we know? And what will happen to my body? I think of this project as a kind of impermanent domicile, an imperfect, aging, fragile and mercilessly temporary home. When I try to play the cumulative repertoire in 2036 over 24 hours, I imagine that event not so much as a marathon but as a kind of long-form poem of the body, a retelling of all the stories I have been trying to tell over all these years.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO LEARN AND PLAY FELDMAN’S EPIC FOR PHILIP GUSTON?
Speaking of marathons! Playing this in Rothko Chapel was a total dream come true. I still can’t believe I got to do that with Steve Schick and Sarah Rothenberg. I am so excited about doing it again in Ojai in a few months, especially for the brave souls who will be there at 5:00 AM to wake up with the birds.
Learning this piece – which I did from my basement bachelor-pad bunker in Chicago every sunrise and every evening during the month of October – felt like learning about music for the first time. It was both demoralizing and exhilarating. I started looking at self-created economies of time (Dickinson calls it “that pathetic pendulum;” Carson calls it “a meaning we impose upon motion”) in completely different ways in daily life, and in my solipsistic practice rituals. On a practical level, as the only wind player in the trio, I was concerned about my endurance. So, a week before the performance, I played a solitary run-through of all five hours, just to make sure I could get through it. Your body goes through a lot of pain in five hours, and so does your mind – you experience anger, fear, unnerving levels of vulnerability, disturbing waves of impassivity, distractedness. The more you let go, you experience wonder, euphoria, and a kind of levity in which you are not the one playing, but the sounds and rhythms are playing you. When I finished, I was reeling, flying, weeping, all at the same time. I was so hungry that I sprinted to the only open restaurant on the block, plopped myself down at the bar, ordered an entire chicken, two sides, two baskets of bread, and a bottle of wine. I ate it all in 15 minutes flat, and I was still ravenous. It’s that kind of piece. I can’t wait to play it again and again.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE OPENICE INITIATIVE?
OpenICE is our new hybrid production model/curatorial platform, an educational initiative, a commissioning engine, an online archive and crowd-sourced open library, and above all, it’s an inquiry into what “community” means for us in 2015. How porous can we make the walls of ICE? How many people might we touch with contemporary music if we remove the velvet rope that surrounds it?
Through OpenICE we are finding new partners in libraries, humanities councils, community centers, public housing developments, artist collectives, all sorts of outfits not typically associated with the contemporary performing arts. The point is to re-think the tired notions of “reach,” “partnership” and “community” and to get new music out of its comfortable myopic bubble and into the wider world. In a way, this is a return to our ICE roots – a group of artists organizing free concerts on shoestring budgets in wacky spaces all over Chicago, creating a scene and getting people to talk about and engage with the work in new ways. As ICE enters its “adulthood,” we are challenging ourselves to self-present uncompromisingly weird music in uncompromisingly weird spaces. And to take that momentum and improvise on it en masse, all over the place, with interesting partners and audiences who challenge our assumptions.
OpenICE will yield more than 150 performances in the next three years, featuring 60 newly commissioned works, in our home cities of Chicago and New York and also in LA, Detroit, rural areas around the US, and other corners of the world like Greenland and the Amazonas region of Brazil that have scant classical, let alone contemporary music programming. OpenICE looks at performance, outreach and education as intrinsically linked – we make no distinction between these gestures within the program. They’re all part of the same breath.
IT SEEMS THAT ICE PERSISTS BY CONSTANTLY CHANGING. IS THAT RIGHT?
Every day at ICE is an evolution. We have thousands of new questions and an equal number of problems and we have no idea where to begin. We just start somewhere because someone has an idea and we have the collective muscle to risk and to trust that idea. We are artists and we need to make things. We figure out who we are by making work. One of the most fulfilling projects we made in 2014 was a three-night retrospective of Alvin Lucier’s work at MCA Chicago. After the first concert, where Alvin did a spellbinding performance of I am sitting in a room, he said to us over hot dogs after the show “What people don’t realize is that ideas are not exceptional. We have millions of them. What is exceptional, and what is indeed very difficult, is doing something about them.”
We have a habit at ICE of scrapping programs one they are successful, i.e. “institutional.” Hence the retirement of our beloved ICElab, and its reincarnation from a noun (a lab, a place, a program) into a verb. To “ICElab” something means to fuck with it, turn it inside out, try ridiculous and preposterous variations, and start something new. OpenICE is the next improvisation on this path, and I’m so excited to see what we learn and, more importantly, find out what we don’t know.
Back to Anne Carson: “Nouns name the world. Verbs activate the names.” I guess it’s clear which type of “chase” I am.
Ongoing and Upcoming:
Chase delivers the opening keynote at The New Music Gathering. Register to attend.
Chase and other members of ICE will participate in the 2015 Ojai Music Festival at the invitation of percussionist and conductor Steven Schick, this year’s Music Director.
The first mini-marathon in Chase’s Density 2036 project, with performances of Density parts i, ii and iii, will take place at The Kitchen in New York during the last week of September 2015.
via The Boston Globe
By David Weininger
Published: November 19, 2014
There may be no more complete contemporary musician in the world today than flutist Claire Chase. Not only is she a sublimely good instrumentalist, she’s also a one-woman new-music generator. She’s in the second year of “Density 2036,” a 22-year project (you read that right) named after Edgard Varèse’s seminal flute piece, “Density 21.5,” to commission a new body of solo flute repertoire. She founded and directs the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), which has created and nourished an audience for the new works it plays so convincingly.
Chase has also become a poster child for musical DIYism, so much so that when she was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2012, she was recognized as an “arts entrepreneur and flutist.” Last year she gave a speech at Northwestern University exhorting the school’s music graduates to create their own opportunities: “Whether we like it or not, the call of our generation is not to occupy positions created for us; our calling is to create positions for ourselves, for one another, to improvise, to invent. . . . In short, our calling is to be entrepreneurs.”
On Thursday, Chase gives a recital at Boston Conservatory. She spoke to the Globe last week from Chicago, where she’s a visiting artist at Northwestern.
Q. This is your third year of being an official genius. How’s that feel?
A. I’m still, to be honest, in a little bit of disbelief that it happened, and that it is happening. I’m just very focused on making the absolute most of it, and making sure that not just the money but all the other good stuff that comes with it is spread around and kept in the artistic community, the community of people who are doing weird stuff at the margins that needs advocacy and collaboration and support.
Q. What are you doing, specifically, with the resources?
A. I gave one year of the award to ICE to start this new program called OpenICE. It’s a free concert platform, but it’s so much more than that; it’s about catalyzing public access to contemporary music and to the work we do, both live and online, and through educational outreach. All told, it’s hundreds of performances over the next several years all around the world that’ll be free and open to the public, and that will also be filmed and made available in our digital concert hall.
Q. Why this Density project to commission this avalanche of new music?
A. “Density 21.5” is a very personal piece for me. It completely changed my life when I heard it for the first time. I was 13 years old, my teacher came into my lesson, and he just laid the most earth-shattering performance of this piece. And I thought, oh my God, this is not the instrument I thought I was playing, but I want to play that. . . . The notion that at some point in my lifetime I could either give the premiere of or have some hand in [something like that], even if I’m an audience member or commissioner of something — if I could be an agent of the change that takes place when the 21st-century “Density” is born, how awesome would that be?
Q. ICE has been around since 2001.
A. We’re old. [laughs]
Q. Well, you’re a veteran among new-music groups. How do you keep that experience relevant and fresh?
A. It’s a good question, because new-music years are kind of like dog years — you multiply by seven. It’s like we’re in our 80s. [laughs] I think the way it keeps being fresh is, it’s about constantly gut-checking ourselves and each other, and being vigilant about never being comfortable. We like to say that as soon as we have a successful program at ICE, we go in and destroy it, and we start something new.
It’s not about things being better or more successful, it’s about them being alive. And for things to be alive, we have to allow their natural processes of transformation to happen — which is so simple, and is so exactly the opposite of what bureaucracies and large institutions, and I think much of our training in music school, drive us to do.
Q. That gets us to your 2012 Northwestern talk, which generated a lot of discussion, some of it quite critical of the idea that musicians should be entrepreneurs. Any further reflections?
A. A very interesting thing happened teaching my first classes at Northwestern this week. We talked about entrepreneurship, and I said, “What is it about this word that scares everybody?” And the students said, “Money — entrepreneurship is about money.” And I had a little lightbulb moment, [because] that’s not at all the way I think about this. Entrepreneurship is about ideas, and it’s about agency, and it’s about realizing our own power to effect the change that we absolutely need to embrace.
And I think there’s all sorts of misconceptions that there’s a model now of entrepreneurship. This thing that was precisely set up to be disruptive and can be quite radical is now a set of skills that you’re going to learn at an entrepreneurship institute: If you just follow these steps, you can be an entrepreneur! As if anything could be farther from the truth. This is where I actually prefer the word activist to the word entrepreneur. It really is about the health of the entire ecosystem — I think it’s a spirit of invention and a spirit of generosity and a spirit of resiliency.
Of all the empowering statements the flutist Claire Chase made in her convocation address to the graduating students of Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music in June, one must have really surprised them: “I’d love for every single one of you to put me out of business. Then I will know that I have done my job.”
The founding artistic director of the dynamic International Contemporary Ensemble (known as ICE) and a 2012 MacArthur Foundation fellow, Ms. Chase had just spoken insightfully about the challenges facing classical music. Yes, she said, we read daily about the implosion of orchestras, the winnowing number of jobs for an expanding work force. But, far from dying, classical music is “just being born,” Ms. Chase said, with “new performance practices that put creators, interpreters, historians, educators, theorists in the same entrepreneurial spaces.”
What this means, as she explained, is that emerging artists of the new generation, instead of occupying a single existing position, as in the old days, will fashion a lively career from multiple pursuits. “Our calling,” she said, “is to create positions for ourselves and others, to improvise and blow the ceiling off of anything resembling a limitation.”
In that convocation speech, which caused a stir on the Internet, and through her work, Ms. Chase, 35, has been making the most positive case I have heard for the new entrepreneurship. It is more crucial than ever, she explained to the students, for emerging artists to create better organizations and stronger communities, to take over.
“And I wasn’t kidding,” she said during a recent phone interview. She does not pretend to have answers for the challenges facing the major institutions. Still, the big players in the field would do well to adopt some of the bold and resourceful thinking of the new generation. Witness the reinvigorated Mostly Mozart Festival, which has had ICE in residency, a “pretty unexpected marriage,” as Ms. Chase called it.
Once, she recalled, a mentor questioning her ambition asked, “Don’t you want to drive a big bus some day?” Ms. Chase answered “No way!”
On a big bus “you are confined to the land, you have difficulty making quick turns,” she said. “I want to drive the little car that’s nimble, that can take fast turns, or amble on an open country road.”