Ali McGhee is a journalist, creative writer, and academic. Her work has appeared in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Romantic Circles, Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary...
For flute musician, performer, and composer Claire Chase, music has always been about discovery. Chase founded the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in 2001, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2012, and received a Champion of New Music Award from the American Composers Forum in 2015. She also began work on a 22-year-long project, Density 2036, in 2014. The end result of the Density project, named for flutist Edgard Varèse’s 1936 flute solo, Density 21.5, will be, according to Chase's website, "an entirely new body of repertory for solo flute," with one performance (and subsequent release) per year until the piece's 100th anniversary. Every few years, Claire will perform every work from the Density project up until that date, ending in a 24-hour marathon performance in 2036.
Chase is currently planning 2017's iteration of the project. She's also on tour, visiting locations from Japan to Banff over the next few months. Along with Steven Schick, she'll be the Co-Artistic Director of Summer Classical Music at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. We caught up with her at this year's Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, where she played to a rapt audience at The Standard, a venue in the heart of downtown. She ended her set with Varèse’s piece, which continues to be one of the most influential musical compositions in her life. We sat down with her (and her friend, composer and multi-instrumentalist Kyle Brenders, the Banff Centre Program Manager in Performing Arts) to talk about the Density project, her first exposure to experimental and avant-garde music, future collaborations and plans, and the state of the world.
At several points during our conversation, friends and fans of Chase came up to pass on words of praise and gratitude for her performance and her music. Many shared about how deeply she has touched their lives. Chase epitomizes the qualities of open graciousness and appreciation for her fans. For me, she is a model of how to be immersed in one's passion while still embracing full connection to the outside world.
Asheville Grit (AG): How did you first come to experimental/avant-garde music? You said during your show that you discovered the Varèse piece at age 13. How did you react to it?