Flutist and MacArthur fellow Claire Chase to perform in musical marathon

In the mood for a unique musical experience? Tune in to two live, marathon performances by MacArthur fellow, flutist and composer Claire Chase tomorrow (Saturday, Dec. 2) at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. While Chase plays inside, Cal Performances will be livestreaming the work Chase has commissioned as part of Density 2036, a 23-year tribute to the upcoming 100th anniversary of Edgard Varèse’s influential flute solo Density 21.5.

Claire Chase

Tickets are sold out, but Cal Performances will use its website, Facebook page and YouTube channel to livestream the performances taking place at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. They will feature 10 West Coast premieres and five Bay Area premieres, as composers Tyshawn Sorey on percussion, Pauchi Sasaki with violin and voice and Levy Lorenzo, sound designer and live electronics, join Chase in BAMPFA’s Crane Forum space.

The concerts will present the full programs from Chase’s Density 21.5 project from 2013-2017 and mark her first presentation of Density programs from multiple years at once. More details are available in the program notes for Chase’s Density 2036 world-premiere marathon performance of Parts I-V.

RSVP here for the livestream and get a reminder from Cal Performances so you don’t forget to listen in.

Meanwhile, UC Berkeley Media Relations posed some questions to Chase about the program and her love of music.

Where did the idea for Density 2036 come from? Why opt for a marathon structure?

Density 21.5, the four-minute flute solo written in 1936 that blew the roof off of my musical imagination when I heard it for the first time as an adolescent — this piece will be 100 years old in 2036. A few years ago, I decided that I would commit myself to creating a new body of repertoire each year leading up to that date, to honor its blazing legacy and to ask the question, really, what will the Density of the 21st century be? What will those four, or 400 or 4,000, minutes of music for the world’s oldest instrument — just a pipe! — sound like that will, like Density of 1936, push us to redefine the capacities of this instrument? (It really is just a little pipe – but oh, the wordless operas we can sing with it!)

So, it’s 23 years — a kind of awkward number — because I came up with the idea in 2013, and 2036 is the centennial. The marathon structure excites me and I committed to it not because it’s some kind of sporting event, or because I want to prove that I can play for 24 hours straight at the age of 58 and still sound good – I probably can’t, and that’s fun to discover, too – but because I feel like doing it all in one sitting is the fullest, most fearless manifestation of the role of a performer, which is to be a vessel, a portal, a kind of channel, if we can get all Californian like that.

It’s less about showing that the body can do this and more about the body getting out of the way of something so much larger than it is. I love the idea that this body of music that will live much, much longer than I can will blow through me, and through the listeners, in a single, intense sitting. That excites me tremendously.

Sample the concerts

It also makes the project much more communal. We have a much more intimate experience with each other, performers and listeners together, when we sit with each other and with the material for long periods.

I don’t just mean the six hours that we’re doing this weekend, or the 10 that we’ll do in a few years, or even the 24 (or more, most likely) in the end. I also mean all the time that the larger community that builds around this project and around the extraordinary composers and collaborative artists who anchor it. That means so much more than a concert, you know? It’s a vast and porous space. And I want it to feel like a party! I hope it feels that way this weekend, even though this is our first time out.

How did you choose the musicians you are collaborating with on the project?

I always look for collaborators who are seeking to do things they’ve never done before, to be pushed into unknown territory and, equally important, to push me into unknown territory. I’m not interested in repeating ideas, or reinforcing styles or points of view.

I want to learn the instrument newly with each piece and I want to learn my body newly and the experience of music newly with each project and each collaboration. When two or more people get together and are actually willing to throw out what makes them comfortable and learn to create something totally new, magic happens.

I feel so privileged to have had this experience working with every composer so far in Density 2036.

Anything special that you are especially looking forward to with your performance in BAMPFA’s Crane Forum?

I am in love with the space – I love that it is both private and public feeling, at once intimate and grand, and above all that it looks out onto the street. I love that that theater doesn’t close in on itself. Who knows what operas will happen outside while we’re having our little opera inside. We can’t not be affected by each other. I just love that. I have no idea what will happen over those six hours outside, but I love that it’s going to be part of our show.

I’m also really excited about the livestream. My friends in New York are organizing a big party for the screening, and I am comforted by the idea that composers and students and friends and family all over the world will be tuning in, if even for a short spell. That’s going to give me a lot of energy onstage.

I am really charged by the idea that we can share this experience beyond the theater on Saturday. I am imagining that as a kind of metaphor for the beautiful architecture of the museum, with its open wall looking out onto the rest of the world. How cool that our concert can be like that too!

Who is your target audience?

Anyone, everyone, of any age and any background or any musical interests, with open ears. All you need are open ears.

Chase in concert

Can you trace your interest in music? 

I grew up in a musical family — my mother is a singer, my father is a choral conductor, my brother is a singer and my grandfather was a vaudevillian — so my first memories are actually musical above all.

One of my earliest (and fondest) memories is of my mother singing to me, my head against her chest. I remember the vibrations as much as I remember the sound.

I don’t have a memory of this obviously, but when my mother was pregnant with me, she apparently sang in an extended vocal techniques group led by the late, great Pauline Oliveros, so I guess you could say I started my musical life in the womb!

What kind/s of music do you typically listen to? 

I am omnivorous musically. I listen to new things every day, and am constantly finding and falling in love with new bands and artists and projects, because my favorite feeling is that feeling of being a total novice, you know? Realizing that I do this for a living, ostensibly, but that I actually don’t know anything.

Claire Chase

I was in Cordoba, Spain, a few days ago playing concerts, and I fell into a conversation with some Flamenco musicians who came to the show, and they seemed surprised that a flute player who plays wacky experimental music would be interested in their music, but I begged them to take me to their favorite place. And so we went, and it was one of the greatest concerts I’ve ever experienced. They started teaching me the rhythms and patterns around this big table in a “palo flamenco,” with people of many ages eating rice and drinking wine, and I was in heaven. They were so patient with me, even though I was at the level of a five-year-old musically. This is my favorite kind of experience.

So yes, I listen to all kinds of things.

Today on the plane, it was Flamenco, the Irish group Bothy Band, the period-instrument Quatour Mosaiques, the Brazilian Carlos Malta’s group Pife Muderno (greatest flute playing I think I’ve ever heard), and my one daily stand-by staple, Glenn Gould playing Bach Partitas. And some Joni Mitchell’s “California” in the car ride, just because, you know, I was feeling all Californian and stuff.