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.”