international contemporary ensemble

Claire Chase: Leading from inside out

Performing this week in Portland, the flutist and contemporary classical music entrepreneur develops and nurtures new models for new music

Claire Chase often tells the story of her first teenage encounter with German-American composer Edgard Varese’s haunting 20th century classic Density 21.5. The brief, elusive solo composition for flute utterly transfixed her, setting her on a course to find more moments like that one. Its hold on her remains undiminished. “The more I live with this four minute masterpiece the more I love it,” she said in an interview with the new music magazine I Care if You Listen last year, “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.”

claire chase orangeMany classical musicians would have been content to just keep endlessly recycling such a favorite old chestnut, along with other hoary classics. But Chase, who grew up in Chicago and is now based in Brooklyn, wanted something more: more Densities, more transfixing moments, more timeless music, more unanswered questions.

And she was able to make that happen because, unlike so many play-what-they’re-told, stick-to-the-classics musicians, Chase is a creator. Not of compositions, but of creative opportunities. Just as George Crumb’s searing Black Angels inspired David Harrington to start Kronos Quartet, Density is Chase’s Rosebud, inspiring her to create projects and ensembles — including her well known International Contemporary Ensemble — that make more creative leaps like Varese’s possible. She’ll showcase some of the results of her latest, the hugely ambitious Density 2036 commissioning project, at two solo performances in Third Angle New Music’s Studio Series this Thursday and Friday, February 18-19, at southeast Portland’s intimate Zoomtopia studios.

The shows will feature music Chase has been commissioning from contemporary composers since 2014 in the project, which will continue with commissions each year until the centennial of Varese’s Density 21.5.  Each year, she’ll premiere a new hour long program of solo flute work commissioned that year, and tour it as she’s doing in Portland, releasing recordings annually with scores and other performance notes and materials made freely available online to flutists everywhere. Every three years, she plans to give a progressively longer cumulative performance of all the works commissioned to that point, culminating in a 24 hour marathon in 2036 that will no doubt leave her lips and lungs in need of futuristic medical treatment.


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