Claire Chase: Terrestre


Virtuoso flutist Claire Chase offers stunning performances of some of the towering works of the modern flute repertoire by luminaries Boulez, Saariaho, Carter, Donatoni, and close collaborator Dai Fujikura. 


Virtuoso flutist and Founder and former artistic and executive director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) Claire Chase releases her second solo CD on New Focus, featuring her stunning performances of some of the towering works from the modern flute repertoire by Pierre Boulez, Kaija Saariaho, Elliott Carter, Franco Donatoni, and Dai Fujikura. She is joined by other ICE members, including pianist Jacob Greenberg and clarinetist Joshua Rubin.

Kaija Saariaho's Terrestre is a reworking of her two movement Flute Concerto, Aile du songe. Inspired by a set of poems titled Oiseaux by Saint-John Perse (also the source of inspiration for the solo flute work, Laconisme de l'aile), Saariaho explores aspects of aviary existence not limited to bird song (as differentiated from Messiaen). The opening movement, "Oiseau dansant," refers to an aboriginal tale in which a virtuosic dancing bird teaches a village how to dance. Chase's charged performance of the powerful instrumental and vocalized lines embody the exhortations of the bird, rousing the villagers to live more fully and with greater abandon.

Franco Donatoni's Fili is a coquettish, dancelike dialogue of punctuations and motivic fragments, traded between the flute and piano. Chase and Greenberg's performance is kinetic and spontaneous, communicating the intricate and complex rhythms as if they were tossed off remarks in a conversation between excited friends.

Elliott Carter's Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux was written in celebration of Pierre Boulez' 60th birthday in 1985, commissioned by Southwest German Radio. Carter wrote that title, translated as "rough breathing/smooth breathing," refers to differences in classical Greek vowel pronunciation depending on whether it is preceded by an H or not. One hears this distinction manifested in two kinds of music in the piece, long sustained tones, and nimble, fast passagework. Chase and Rubin deliver a virtuosic and playful performance, highlighting their sensitive blend with each other cultivated over many years of performing together.

Boulez wrote his Sonatine for Jean-Pierre Rampal, who apparently found it distasteful, and never played it. The piece's character is shaped by its impetuous shifts in mood and character, as articulated particularly in changes of tempo. Both instruments get short solo turns, and in Carter-esque fashion, Boulez paints complex pictures of the "personalities" behind the instruments in material that ranges from aggressive to declamatory to momentarily lyrical. The final minutes of the piece are driven forward by insistent, accented notes, first in the piano, and then in both instruments, arriving finally at majestic chords surrounding a middle voice trill in the piano, that prepares a high register cry in the flute and three final annunciatory tones.

Japanese born, UK based composer Dai Fujikura has been a close colleague of Chase's since 2002 when they connected in the context of an International Contemporary Ensemble call for scores. Many collaborations later, Fujikura has adapted the closing bass flute solo of the large ensemble work he wrote for the group, aptly titled ICE, for solo bass flute. Incorporating lush multiphonics, fluttering trills, and serene melodic fragments, the work is a poignant end to a monumental album. Fujikura writes of Glacier, "In my imagination this piece is like a plume of cold air which is floating silently between the peaks of a very icy cold landscape, slowly but cutting like a knife…"

- D. Lippel

Engineered and edited by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio 
Produced by Jacob Greenberg
Cover photo by David Michalek

Claire Chase

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 Varese. Also in the 2014-15 season, Chase is music directing and playing as soloist in a series of performances of Salvatore Sciarrino's Il cerchio tagliato dei suoni for 4 flute soloists and 100 flute “migranti”.

Chase has performed throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia, including debuts last season in Berlin, Frankfurt, Vienna, Paris, London, São Paolo and Guangzhou. She has released three solo albums, Aliento (2010), Terrestre (2012) and Density (2013). In 2014, she was selected as an inaugural Fellow of Project&, with which she will several new works exploring the relationship between language, music and social interaction over the next several years.

Chase was First Prize Winner in the 2008 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. She co-founded the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) in 2001 and serves as the organization’s Artistic Director and CEO in addition to playing over fifty concerts a year as an ensemble member. ICE has premiered more than 600 works since its inception and pioneered a new artist-driven organizational model that earned the company a Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center in 2010. Chase was also honored with Crain’s Business “40 under 40” Award in 2013.

In 2013, Chase founded The Pnea Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of the flute and its repertoire in the 21st century through commissions, community engagement, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary collaborations and advocacy. She lives in Brooklyn.



Wall Street Journal Blog

There's a 1976 recording of James Galway playing Paganini's "Moto Perpetuo" on his golden flute, in which you never once hear him draw breath.

At the time, it was lauded as an almost superhuman feat; a virtuosic example of circular breathing, a technique that allows wind players to simultaneously inhale air through the nose while breathing it out through the mouth. (Galway later confessed the recording had been spliced together.) In 1997, saxophonist Kenny G used circular breathing to play a continuous, unbroken note for a total of 45 minutes and 47 seconds, earning him a mention in the Guinness Book of Records.

Last week's concert by flutist Claire Chase at (Le) Poisson Rouge, celebrating the release of her new CD "Terrestre," offered no shortage of athletic challenges and technical sorcery of its own. But what struck me the most about the recent compositions for flute was the return of the breath. By turns expressive, mysterious, and dramatic, it was always unapologetically human. As Chase later told me over the phone, "Breath is the one thing we can't live without. As flute players, it's something we should honor."

Of all the wind instruments, the flute is the least efficient in transforming breath into musical sound, because so much of the air is lost when the player blows across the opening in the mouthpiece. (At the other spectrum is the oboe with its tightly pressed double reed, which wastes so little air that oboists have to empty out their lungs at the end of a phrase before quickly tanking up again.) Normally, classical flutists are taught to make the breath as self-effacing as possible - to banish that persistent ffff-sound that is usually the mark of a beginner.

But in Chase's performance of "Glacier" (2010), a solo for bass flute by Dai Fujikura, her breath floated audibly above much of the music, giving it a ghostly quality. With subtle changes in the angle of the mouthpiece, she was able to invoke the sound of more ancient types of flutes made out of wood, bamboo and stone.

Her inhalations, too, became part of the music. Contemporary composers like Fujikura, says Chase, "have started to think of breath as an ornament and as an expressive device in its own right, whether it's a subtle, moody breath or the dramatic gesture of an inhalation. Some breaths are even notated in the music: it increases the drama."

Breath also became a character in Kaija Saariaho's "Terrestre" (2003), a spirited, fanciful work for flute, strings, harp and percussion in which Chase was joined by her colleagues from the International Contemporary Ensemble. "Terrestre" is inspired by an Aboriginal tale of a bird teaching an entire village to dance. In it, the composer calls on the flutist to sing, too, sometimes while simultaneously playing another note, other times alternating, so that a conversation ensues between voice and instrument.

It's a magical effect, but startling, too, because we have come to think of classical performers as transparent conduits for pure music. Bringing their breath and voice back into the performance is a way of asserting their physicality and individual sound. To do it well and remain within the confines of art takes the kind of combination of grace and guts that make Chase one of the more formidable forces on the classical scene - but the result is a full-throated affirmation of chamber music as human drama.

-Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, January 28, 2012


I Care If You Listen

On January 17, Claire Chase celebrated the arrival of her new CD, Terrestre (earthly in French, Ed.). The setting was Le Poisson Rouge, and the ambience was set smoothly before a single note was played, as the room was lit primarily by swaths of cool blue lights and warm red ones, in a jagged pattern. The house was packed, and the crowd was eclectic, as twenty-somethings, hipsters, and the baby-boomers were all well represented.

Starting the evening off was Glacier, a minimalist piece written by Dai Fujikura for solo bass flute. The bass flute is not often seen or heard, and after seeing and hearing Chase play it, one wonders where this magnificent instrument has been hiding. The piece opened mysteriously on an open fifth, and proceeded like a soliloquy with great expressive range. While the timbre began gently, warm, and with an airy vocal quality, even approaching a plainchant, there was soon much more vigor, with multiphonics, trills, warbling sounds, even honking and blasting at times. The music was divided nicely by carefully measured periods of silence. It ended on a repeating descending tritone, fading away.

Following the first piece, a brief interlude was provided by Chase and poet Laura Mullen, as they both read Mullen's poem, with Mullen reading it forwards and Chase reading it backwards, simultaneously. The second musical piece was Pierre Boulez's Sonatine for piano and flute, with Jacob Greenberg as the accompanist. It opened with sharp contrast between the two instruments, as the flute played wide-ranging leaps while the piano palyed sparse accompaniment, and as the piece continued, their lines began to seamlessly blend together. Chase rendered the angular lilnes beautifully, and imparted a sensuality that was raw and felt hedonistic. Her brilliant piercing shrill in the high end of her range was particularly effective. Greenberg played his technically challengingn part very skillfully andn with confidence.

The final work played that evening was the title work of the CD, Terrestre, composed by Kaija Saariaho in 2003, and scored for flautist (doubling as vocalist), violin, cello, harp, and percussion. Chase was backed this time by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). She began solo with an interesting and impatient theme, as though to rouse the other players into action, and the energy picked up quickly. The piece itself was quite beautiful, with flowing, exotic scales being passed between the instruments, and distinct use of the xylophone as well as woodblocks. The vocal parts for Chase were syllable-focused and reminiscent of the work of Luciano Berio. During the frenzied solo sections, she brilliantly blurred the line between her voice and the sound of her flute. All the players were in fine form. Of note, the composer was in town from Finland for the performance, and had a very warm reception when arriving on stage.

The only significant negative thing I could mention is that the concert was too short in duration, and I was left wanting more. When Chase picks up her flute and plays, it is immediately evident that the rest of her world fades away as she bares her spirit through her instrument, allowing the listener to let the world fade away as well. And she has clearly gone to great lengths to explore every possible timbre on the flute that one could imagine, giving her a remarkable palette to paint with.

-Neil Prufer, January 25, 2012



Sure, Claire Chase’s Terrestre may not boast the ear-worminess of “Zou Bisou Bisou,” the latter of which was sung on last month's season opener of Mad Men (and subsequently by everyone everywhere the following Monday morning). But, much like the French pop ditty, there’s something immediately captivating, compelling and compulsive about this feisty flautist’s newest solo album.

Chase, one of the indefatigable forces behind the International Contemporary Ensemble, has never been one to hide her voracious appetite for new music, as seen on her 2009 debut solo album Aliento. But here, she also shows off her magnetic ringleader persona, bringing together a number of performers to accompany her on an odyssey through Saariaho, Carter, Boulez, Fujikura and Franco Donatoni.

Worth the price of admission alone is the world-premiere recording of Kaija Saariaho’s Terrestre, an opening track that percolates with a gamine energy and beguiling bird calls (this is a revamped version of the second movement to Saariaho’s flute concerto, set to poetry by Saint-John Perse that evokes birds in flight). Rather than adopt a Messiaen complex, Saariaho’s piece delves into the soaring psychological aspects of being able to take flight at will, and Chase makes each of those requisite soaring dives along with members of ICE.

Throughout the album, Chase displays a dreamy flute technique, ringing crystalline and clarion when she wants to, but also exploring the textural possibilities of the instrument in pieces like Donatoni’s Fili and Boulez’s Flute Sonatina (both played with pianist Jacob Greenberg). She balances disturbingly well with partners like clarinetist Joshua Rubin on Elliott Carter’s 1985 duet Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux. We hear her completely solo on another world-premiere track, Dai Fujikura’s Glacier for bass flute, the effect of which creates a low and languid pace across a frozen five minutes.

As a bonus track, we’re treated to a roundabout thematic conclusion that ties the whole album together in a neat bow: Chase’s reading of poet Laura Mullen’s Was O (a soundalike for the French term for bird, “oiseau”). In speaking, Chase captures the lyrical rhythms of the preceding pieces—“Was O” is said in the same cadence as the first two notes for the preceding Fujikura work—and thematic currents. After listening to this unorthodox encore, you may be tempted, perspective renewed, to listen to the preceding five tracks again.

-Olivia Giovetti, April 9, 2012 



Claire Chase is known as the founder of International Contemporary Ensemble, one of the world's best and most adventurous new music groups, but she's also a striking flutist. Terrestre (New Focus 122; 48:54 ****) is a stunning second solo album, and it nonchalantly displays her easy virtuosity and empathetic approach. Kaija Saariaho's swooping title piece finds Chase breathlessly interweaving vocal interjections and fluid flute lines without seams, backed deftly by a quartet of ICE members with translucent brilliance. The middle of the album features two duets with pianist Jacob Greenberg and one with clarinetist Joshua Rubin on works by Donatoni, Carter and Boulez, while the collection closes with the premiere of Dai Fujikura's bass flute meditation "Glacier."

-Peter Margasak, June 2012


Sequenza 21

Although she’s steadily been building a reputation as one of contemporary classical music’s finest interpreters and ambitious organizers, 2012 was an auspicious time for flutist Claire Chase. Her work with International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE),both on record and in concert, garnered frequent acclaim. She released Terrestre, her second solo CD for the New Focus imprint. Accompanied on the recording by pianist Jacob Greenberg, clarinetist Joshua Rubin, and other members of ICE, Chase assays works by Pierre Boulez (Sonatine)Kaija Saariaho (Terrestre), Elliott Carter (Esprit rude/esprit doux)Franco Donatoni (Fili), and Dai Fujikura (Glacier). These range widely in style and demeanor. Hyperactive melismatic writing, microtonal bends and use of vocalizations are found on Terrestre; intricate ensemble interactions populate both this work and Esprit Rude/esprit Doux. Sonatine is an early example of postwar modernism, rife with angularity and reveling in syncopation. Equally impressive is her rendition of Fili, a breathless piece filled with myriad utterances and a kaleidoscope of rhythmically charge motifs. Chase is equally at home playing the soulful and gradually unfolding utterances of Fujikura’s Glacier,a bass flute work that combines simplicity – quasi-modal melodies – with complexity – multiphonics and other effects – in a convincing amalgam.

On October 1, 2012, it was announced that Chase had been awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Nicknamed “genius grants,” these awards are designed to give some of the most prominent practitioners and thinkers in their respective field monetary support and time to more fully explore their goals. Upon hearing the announcement, my sense was the Chase was the first flutist to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. When contacted for comment, the MacArthur Foundation indicated that they don’t keep an accounting of which instruments their musician fellows play. But after digging around their website and newspaper archives, it appears to me that Chase is the first flutist they’ve made a fellow. Back in October, shortly after the awards were announced, I interviewed Claire. Our exchange follows below.

- Christian Carey, December 2012


Listed under "Best Albums of 2012"

Most recent CDs of contemporary flute music focus on unaccompanied works, so this disc, featuring members of the International Contemporary Ensemble (founded by Chase) is a welcome break from the norm. It’s a bold, ambitious disc, featuring works by Donatoni, Boulez, Carter, Saariaho & Dai Fujikura, but the performances throughout are arresting and full of conviction. Particularly impressive is Chase’s remarkable agility, enabling her to skitter effortlessly through tortuous material, yet equally able to penetrate dark recesses of tranquillity & introspection.

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