Composer Matt McBane has been fearless as founder and director of the Carlsbad Music Festival. Over the course of 10 years, he’s presented “Adventurous Music by the Beach,” and against all odds, he has prevailed.
But few things McBane has done over his 10 years have been as courageous as unleashing Claire Chase in this year’s festival, which included the remarkable flutist performing Friday as part of the Village Music Walk and Saturday in a solo and electronics concert at the Carlsbad Village Theatre, which also hosted performances by the Calder Quartet and Roomful of Teeth.
Chase will also play Sunday with percussionist Steve Schick at the Village Theatre.
Much of the new work McBane has presented has been relatively palatable, including his own music. Saturday, the Calder Quartet performed McBane’s evocative “Ghost in the Machine, Part 1,” on a program that also included selections from Pulitzer Prize winner-Caroline Shaw’s poignant and undeniably affecting “By and By,” Steven Mackey’s energetic “Physical Property” and Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3.
Although the program was fresh and engaging, it didn’t demand all that much from the listeners (aside from the Bartok), and it was relatively easy on the ears.
Chase’s program, however, asked a lot. Comprised of pieces on her upcoming, third solo album, “Density,” it was an abbreviated, 60-minute version of a 75-program she’ll play in Chicago later this month and New York next month marking the album’s release.
Performed without interruption with the assistance of sound engineer Levy Lorenzo, it moves from layers upon layers of flutes in Steve Reich’s “Vermont Counterpoint” to the single flute in Varese’s “Density 21.5.”
in between are uncompromising works by Marcos Balter, and especially Mario Diaz de Leon and Alvin Lucier, whose “Almost New York” is about as demanding as new music gets. It is a series of prerecorded, sustained, “pure wave” tones that slowly change frequency.
Using five different types of flutes, Chase also played sustained tones that moved in and out of phase as the pitch of the “pure wave” tones changed. If it didn’t drive you crazy (or perhaps after it did), you could appreciate the sound for its own sake. There was no narrative, no development, no melody, no rhythm; just pure sound.
Chase, who won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant and as importantly, grew up and studied in nearby Leucadia, played brilliantly.
Equally skillful, Roomful of Teeth was more typical of the festival’s usual fare. The New York-based, eight member vocal ensemble, which includes Shaw among its members, is innovative, imaginative, entertaining, surprising and ingratiating.
Where Chase performed her album, she never said a word (you’d have to check the International Contemporary Ensemble website to get the context; the program didn’t mention it either). Roomful of Teeth also sang works they had recorded but they made several mentions of their album, the final one mentioning it was on sale in the lobby. Now that’s genius.