Claire Chase forges a new arts model
by John von Rhein
Published: October 01, 2012
Claire Chase learned she was one of the recipients of this year’s MacArthur Awards last week during a sound check for a solo performance that the 34-year-old flutist gave in Guangzhou, China.
“I was completely stunned,” Chase, co-founder and director of the Chicago and New York-based International Contemporary Ensemble, confessed via email.
“I am tremendously honored and humbled by this award, and I am deeply proud of the community of ICE artists whose tireless work over the past decade has brought new music from the sidelines to the forefront.
“What excites me most about this recognition is the possibility of its resonance for other young artists, arts activists and nonprofit arts groups who are committed to forging new paths and changing the field.”
The MacArthur Award further cites Chase’s successful efforts as an “arts entrepreneur” to forge “a new model for the commissioning, recording and live performance of classical music, and opening new avenues of artistic expression for the 21st century musician.”
Chase admits she can’t quite believe the ensemble has traveled this far, this fast.
She co-founded the International Contemporary Ensemble on a budget of about $500 in Chicago 10 years ago along with a cadre of 15 fellow instrumentalists from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. Their ambition was to create a dynamic, free-form ensemble that would advance new music and cultivate an extensive and eclectic repertory.
Chase envisioned the group eventually becoming as important and relevant to the cultural life of great cities as museums, symphony orchestras and opera companies — a “crazy idea,” she admits today. It isn’t anywhere near that goal, but give it time.
Little by little, the ensemble has taken on new members — the roster now stands at 30 musicians — and is busy establishing satellite locations beyond Chicago and New York, where Chase currently resides. Offshoots on the West Coast and in Berlin, Brazil and Belize are in the works, she says.
Along with exploring neglected corners of the existing repertory, Chase and friends also actively commission new works from young and emerging composers. The ensemble has presented well more than 300 world premieres to date, presenting its wide-ranging programs in settings ranging from traditional concert halls to art galleries, warehouses, clubs and public spaces.
An accomplished flutist who maintains an active solo career in addition to administering and performing as a member of the ensemble, Chase has herself premiered more than 100 new works for flute.
But whether this busy young artist is going it alone or teaming up with her colleagues onstage, she is committed to stimulating audience members to engage with the sounds of today — and with much the same passion that drives her and her peers.