An earthly abode for ethereal sounds: Claire Chase’s “Terrestre” release party

On January 17th, 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.

Claire Chase - Photograph by Stephanie Berger

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 played sparse accompaniment, and as the piece continued, their lines began to seamlessly blend together. Chase rendered the angular lines 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 challenging part very skillfully and with confidence.

Kaija Saariaho - Photograph by Jean-Louis Fernandez

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. The CD is available commercially in March 2012, and I highly recommend it. A teaser can be found through the following link on Chase’s website:

Neil Prufer is a composer and pianist living in New York City.