Q2 Music Album of the Week by Claire Chase

On her last solo album, "Terrestre," flutist Claire Chase performed pieces by Boulez and Carter, and threw in a new Kaija Saariaho premiere for good measure. With her newest album, "Density," she presents the most varied “American” program yet from any soloist in the International Contemporary Ensemble orbit. (Chase is the virtuoso group’s executive director.)

    Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint is first up: Chase multitracks its 11 parts, but rather than feeling studio-cramped, it’s expressive. Her downshift into the slow section is majestic. A rare recording of Philip Glass’s Piece In the Shape of a Square, written in 1967, doubles up on the album’s minimalist bona fides—though this connection between two pieces is hardly the most interesting one on the album.

    Three other pieces suggest two additional, complementary pairings. Electronic-acoustic dialogue is foregrounded on Alvin Lucier’sAlmost New York: the flutist has to look for ways to blend in with the pure-wave oscillators, and thus manipulate the “density” of her instrument to get the cleanest sound possible. By contrast, Mario Diaz de Léon’s Luciform pits flute-tones in stark relief against a barrage of alien electronic effects. Here, Chase deals with chords of doom-metal texture, and, at the end, sheets of tintinnabulation that sound as if grabbed from Stockhausen’s Cosmic Pulses. Diaz de Leon’s composition is the most varied-sounding one on the album—a perfect foil for Lucier’s drone-work.

    But Luciform also has a connection to another piece, Marcos Balter’s Pessoa (for six bass flutes). Both composed in 2013, their distinct approaches make a powerful argument for the current health of the New York scene. Less hyperactive than Luciform, Balter’s Pessoa nevertheless is full of activity: a nimbus of five multi-tracked parts often swarms around the solo bass-flute lead, casting delicate shadows of flutter-tongue action. At other points that chorus coalesces into keening chords.

    All that’s left is for Chase to pivot back to a key text of the solo flute literature: Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5. Its register leaps aren’t just “navigated”—they’re all but dared to trouble the flautist. They don’t, much. As on the other pieces, sometimes her instrument sounds as if disembodied, while at other moments the human breath rattling around in the density of the instrument is a presence all its own.


    Claire Chase wows Atlas with an evening of flute by Claire Chase

    via The Washington Post
    By Stephen Brookes, Published: October 13, 2013

    Does the flute have a more interesting champion right now than Claire Chase? At 35, this New York-based virtuoso has carved out a key role for herself in contemporary music, commissioning and performing a range of new works for flute that have brought much-needed fire to the repertoire.

    The indefatigable Chase — she’s also a founder of the International Contemporary Ensemble and a 2012 MacArthur Fellow — has just released her third CD, titled “Density.” On Saturday night at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, she put on a riveting performance of the music from that disc: a 75-minute tour de force that showed Chase to be among the most electrifying flutists on the planet — and showed the flute as an instrument whose possibilities have only begun to be explored.

    Chase tossed out the usual concert conventions, performing alone — accompanied only by electronics or her own pre-recorded flute tracks — and dressed near-invisibly on an almost dark stage, playing the entire program as a highly amplified and uninterrupted whole. The effect was spellbinding. As each work moved seamlessly into the next, Chase explored different forms of density — of textures, of thought, of sheer sonic weight — gradually narrowing the focus from the playful 11-flute orchestra of Steve Reich’s “Vermont Counterpoint” to the climactic, elemental intensity of Edgard Varese’s 1936 masterwork for solo flute, “Density 21.5.”

    And through all the works — which included Marcos Balter’s dark and deeply poetic “Pessoa” for six bass flutes; Alvin Lucier’s maddening but strangely beguiling “Almost New York” for flutes and sustained sine tones (patience required); Mario Diaz de Leon’s idea-dense “Luciform” (a vibrant sort-of-sonata for flute and electronics, from 2013); and Philip Glass’s tail-chasing “Piece in the Shape of a Square” for two flutes — Chase played with the kind of vitality and directness and effortless virtuosity that you always hope to hear in the concert hall but too rarely do. All in all, an extraordinary evening from one of the brightest lights on the contemporary music scene, and a high point of the Atlas’s ongoing New Music series.