Review: Claire Chase Explores the Flute’s Possibilities by Claire Chase

Photo credit: Ross Karre


OCT. 4, 2015

Audience members were still filing into the auditorium of the Kitchen in Manhattan on Friday evening when the flutist Claire Chase ambled onstage for her solo recital.

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.

Claire Chase creates theater of the lung in enthralling flute recital by Claire Chase

via The Los Angeles Times

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


via NewMusicBox

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.

Edgard Varèse: The Most Epic Interview You’ll Ever Hear about the Ultimate Maverick by Claire Chase

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."  


Tuning Up
Poème électronique  
Density 21.5

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

5 Questions to Claire Chase (ICE founder and flutist) by Claire Chase



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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:

Hear Chase’s in-depth interview about the work Edgard Varèse with his longtime assistant, composer Chou Wen-chung on Q2.

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.

Flute genius Claire Chase brings entrepreneurial spirit to Boston by Claire Chase

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.

Interview has been condensed and edited. David Weininger can be reached Follow him on Twitter @davidgweininger.


Claire Chase Invites Young Musicians to Create New Paths by Claire Chase

via the New York Times
Published: December 26, 2013

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.”

photo: David Michalek

photo: David Michalek

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.”

NPR Music's 100 Favorite Songs Of 2013 by Claire Chase

via NPR Music

What do you have to do, as a song, to win our hearts? You have to sink in. You have to stop someone dead in her tracks. You need to cause that man to act a fool. Scrunch a nose, tense a shoulder, drop an ass.

We compile our 100 Favorite Songs much like we do the work on our 50 Favorite Albums list, but the job done by a three-minute slow jam — or, say, a bracing piece for solo flute — is not the same as two sides of an LP or even a tightly curated collection of stories. A song's function, when we hear it apart from its siblings (which is almost always, given shuffle, mixes, all the streaming services, DJs and commercials), is to snatch you, drag you around for a few moments and then get out. So when we considered what songs mattered to us this year, we asked which ones achieve the most in the brief space our technology has allotted them. Which ones take an idea and express it fully. Which notice a sore spot in our recent history and twist the knife just so. Which are stamped with memories or reliably turn the temperature up or put a smile on our face every single time.

These are the songs that stood out. Quick hits of bliss, frustration, triumph, regret, you name it. All in together now.

Claire Chase, Edgar Varèse: Density 21.5

An elegant, hypnotic reading of a landmark modernist solo piece composed for a platinum flute, from a player — and MacArthur Fellow — best known for her sterling work as head of the International Contemporary Ensemble.


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.


    Carlsbad unleashes Claire Chase: Uncompromising flutist highlight of Saturday's Carlsbad Music Festival by Claire Chase

    via UT San Diego
    By James Chute 12:40 A.M.SEPT. 22, 2013

    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.

    photo: Bryan Snyder: Carlsbad Music Festival

    photo: Bryan Snyder: Carlsbad Music Festival

    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.


    Claire Chase And Her Flute by Claire Chase

    photo: Stephanie Berger

    photo: Stephanie Berger

    Dick speaks with musician and MacArthur fellow Claire Chase about her passion to push the flute beyond traditional notes.  She fell in love with an experimental piece when she was young and has not looked back. She has put her energy into the International Contemporary Ensemble, which aims to poke holes in the wall separating classical and experimental music.


    MacArthur Fellowship 'Genius Grant' Awards: Claire Chase forges a new arts model by Claire Chase

    via The Chicago Tribune
    John von Rhein | Classical music critic

    photo: Home Front Communications

    photo: Home Front Communications

    Claire Chase learned she was one of the recipients of this year's MacArthur Awards last week during a sound check for a solo performance that the 34-year-old flutist gave in Guangzhou, China.

    “I was completely stunned,” Chase, co-founder and director of the Chicago and New York-based International Contemporary Ensemble, confessed via email.

    “I am tremendously honored and humbled by this award, and I am deeply proud of the community of ICE artists whose tireless work over the past decade has brought new music from the sidelines to the forefront.

    “What excites me most about this recognition is the possibility of its resonance for other young artists, arts activists and nonprofit arts groups who are committed to forging new paths and changing the field.”

    The MacArthur Award further cites Chase's successful efforts as an “arts entrepreneur” to forge “a new model for the commissioning, recording and live performance of classical music, and opening new avenues of artistic expression for the 21st century musician.”

    Chase admits she can't quite believe the ensemble has traveled this far, this fast.

    She co-founded the International Contemporary Ensemble on a budget of about $500 in Chicago 10 years ago along with a cadre of 15 fellow instrumentalists from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. Their ambition was to create a dynamic, free-form ensemble that would advance new music and cultivate an extensive and eclectic repertory.

    Chase envisioned the group eventually becoming as important and relevant to the cultural life of great cities as museums, symphony orchestras and opera companies — a “crazy idea,” she admits today. It isn't anywhere near that goal, but give it time.

    Little by little, the ensemble has taken on new members — the roster now stands at 30 musicians — and is busy establishing satellite locations beyond Chicago and New York, where Chase currently resides. Offshoots on the West Coast and in Berlin, Brazil and Belize are in the works, she says.

    Along with exploring neglected corners of the existing repertory, Chase and friends also actively commission new works from young and emerging composers. The ensemble has presented well more than 300 world premieres to date, presenting its wide-ranging programs in settings ranging from traditional concert halls to art galleries, warehouses, clubs and public spaces.

    An accomplished flutist who maintains an active solo career in addition to administering and performing as a member of the ensemble, Chase has herself premiered more than 100 new works for flute.

    But whether this busy young artist is going it alone or teaming up with her colleagues onstage, she is committed to stimulating audience members to engage with the sounds of today — and with much the same passion that drives her and her peers.