ICE Cofounder Claire Chase Steps Out With Debut Solo Recording

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Claire Chase
  • Claire Chase

Is it just me, or is the killer new-music group and Chicago-New York presenting force International Contemporary Ensemble responsible for an inordinately large proportion of the exciting new music shows that happen in the city? A few weeks ago I saw violinist David Bowlin give a knockout performance of rarely performed work by Luigi Nono, and I’m super pumped about a program of works by the brilliant Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho happening next month at the MCA.

From the very start one of the key forces behind the organization has been the remarkable flutist Claire Chase, who plays a record release party at the Velvet Lounge tonight.

Most of my limited interactions with her have been through e-mail, where she’s tirelessly provided information and insight about various ICE events. Although I knew she was a musician, it wasn’t until I got a copy of her stunning new album, Aliento (New Focus), that I finally heard her play. Like nearly everything ICE does, the album emphasizes new work—all six pieces are world premiere recordings.

Of course, given how so much 20th-century classical work is bypassed by most "serious" institutions, there’s an awful lot of music from the last hundred years that's in some ways “new.” Here, though, all but one of the composers were born after 1971, and the sixth, Marcelo Toledo, was born in 1964. Age would be irrelevant if the music wasn't any good, but it is—these are bold, harrowing works.

Four of them feature processing or electronics abrading or complementing Chase’s instrument. The opener, "PneApnea" (2007), by Nathan Davis, demands the most of the flutist’s technique and agility, with a zigzagging barrage of terse sound bursts and thick, percussive breath sounds; live processing shadows the acoustic sounds with a kind of eerie, complementary sibilance. Chase also brings nonflute sounds to "16" (2003), a piece by Jason Eckardt, whose title refers to the 16 fallacious words George Bush spoke in his 2003 State of the Union address about Iraq’s acquisition of uranium from Niger. Here Chase uses more breathy pffts and splats as well as harsh vocal interjections, which all interact with a discordant set of lines from a string trio. The Eckardt piece is the only one here where Chase is joined by other acoustic musicians.

I've always been ambiguous about the flute. But Chase is doing for classical music what Nicole Mitchell has done for jazz in my mind—making me realize that in the right hands (and I guess with the right lips) the flute can kill it. The entire album is a knockout. I'm not exaggerating when I say I was reeling a little when I finished listening to it for the first time; this is a pretty heavy-duty program.

Chase plays tonight (Tuesday, October 27) at Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge in celebration of the album’s release—having concerts at nontraditional classical venues is another nice ICE thing. She’ll be performing four pieces that're on the album—by Davis, Dai Fujikura, Edgar Guzmán, and Du Yun—along with a couple that aren't: one by Chicago-based Brazilian Marcos Balter (for which she’ll be joined by fellow ICE flutist Eric Lamb) and a playful adaptation of Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for violin, featuring solo flute, electronics, and "gadgets."

Photo: Janette Beckman

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