Q&A with Claire Chase: the silos are down



Flutist Claire Chase: We are only interested in ideas, not what we call them.
  • David Michalek
  • Flutist Claire Chase: "We are only interested in ideas, not what we call them. "
A few weeks ago John Corbett (of Corbett vs. Dempsey gallery) approached Claire Chase, a virtuosic flutist and executive director of ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble)* with the idea of creating a series of solo performances at the gallery. “We’ve been sporadically presenting music in our space since we started,” says Corbett. “And we’ve wanted to expand into the world of contemporary classical for some time.” Corbett met Chase through Chicago arts patron Lisa Lee. “The timing was perfect,” he says. “It’s really exciting to see these kinds of crossovers between visual art and contemporary music. And we’re honored to begin this series with Claire who’s not only a top-tier performer, but an amazing person as well.” The collaborative series premieres Saturday, March 17.

What inspired you to create this series?

The credit for this idea should go to John Corbett, who approached me a few weeks ago after a concert about his desire to program a series of solo concerts featuring ICE members at the gallery. It was a marvelous moment of serendipity, because earlier that same day I had been talking to some of my ICE colleagues about how much I miss tightly focused, highly personal ICE events. We used to do all the time, all over the city. So I said to John, absolutely! Let's do it! And we started it right away.

How do you curate a program based on an exhibition?

I am by no means the curator of this series; this will be highly collaborative between the ICE musicians and John and Jim. In some cases there will be a direct link between the exhibition and the music/musician we pair it with, but in most cases we will leave the connections up to the imaginations of the listeners, which will stem from their own ephemeral interactions with both the art and the music in that space.

And we'll see how it progresses. I imagine that much of the music we focus on will naturally intersect with the 40-year period (1940-80) that is at the heart of Corbett vs. Dempsey's work.

Can you talk about the series premiere on Saturday?

In the case of this week's concert, I spent some time gazing in astonishment at Molly Zuckerman-Hartung's show a couple weeks ago and letting my imagination run wild about what types of flute sounds could accompany this explosive world of paint. Luciano Berio's Sequenza I came immediately to mind for its fantastical, hysterical qualities. Edgard Varese's Density 21.5 for its singularity and intrepidity. All of the works of Salvatore Sciarrino, for their color and elegance. And a wild new set of solo pieces I recently commissioned by Marcelo Toledo that verge on performance art.

Then I thought about all the music that this exhibition is not. Philip Glass, Claudio Monteverdi, Olivier Messiaen. This was also an interesting space to consider—I thought about what pieces could offer not just resonance, but counterpoint or dissonance to the work. In the end I decided on three pieces that, for me, intersect with Molly’s work, which I so deeply admire in different ways.

What about the increasing overlap between visual arts and contemporary music?

I think the best way to speak about this is to discuss my program selections.

I chose Edgard Varese's Density 21.5, arguably the boldest, brashest, and most influential four minutes of solo flute music ever written (Frank Zappa used to play it for his bandmates every day) as an opener. When I look at Zuckerman-Hartung's Anti-Expeditious I think about the high D's in Density 21.5 being played over and over again like beating your head against a wall. For me, too, Density 21.5 is a very personal piece, and it's impossible not to play it with my heart on my sleeve and everything hanging out. It seemed like this would be a fitting opener to go with this exhibition. No introduction, no warming up, let's just dive in and start making the flute sound like an electric guitar!

Then I offer a kind of crazy contrast. Steve Reich's Vermont Counterpoint, for live flute doubling alto and piccolo, with ten tracks of prerecorded flutes is a piece of pure and unadulterated 80s minimalism.

This is followed by Sciarrino's newish transcription of the famous Johann Sebastian Bach organ Toccata and Fugue, reimagined for solo flute. I thought this would be a fitting finale. It's an old piece put through a sieve and in the act of transcription is completely disfigured. It attempts to attain the utterly, hysterically impossible. The results are marvelous.

And what about larger convergences between the art and music worlds?

In a larger context, I think we are seeing that the silos are down. Contemporary art, contemporary music, conceptual art, performance art, postmodern music, even and perhaps the especially limiting "visual art.” We have dwindling use for these names. I'm sure we'll come up with new ones. Postclassical is the musical term du jour, but that's almost passe now too. In the meantime it's a very exciting moment to make work, because we can do just that—make work. ICE's stated definition of "composer" for the purposes of our ICElab program is "anyone working in the field of sound." That can be any "type" of artist with any background or lack thereof. We are only interested in ideas, not what we call them.

If you're interested in attending ICE SOLO, email Rose@iceorg.org

*I became well-acquainted with ICE when I helped them with marketing strategies in 2010-2011.

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