Review: The Bloom Is Still on Claire Chase’s Monumental Project

Review: The Bloom Is Still on Claire Chase’s Monumental Project


It would be understandable for an artist to appear merely dutiful, at some point, during a 23-year creative project requiring annual check-ins. So how does the flutist Claire Chase sound, circa the sixth edition of “Density 2036,” her long-term initiative to commission and premiere a new raft of repertoire for her instrument?

On the evidence of her concert Friday night at the Kitchen, she is not feeling bogged down yet. Nor does she seem likely to court ennui in the immediate future. That’s partly the result of some good taste in programming, as this year’s set included imaginative works from marquee composers like Olga Neuwirth and Pamela Z.

Ms. Neuwirth’s “Magic Flu-idity,” for flute and typewriter, was a distillation of a flute concerto (which Ms. Chase has played with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra). But this reduction did not feel like an afterthought. The frequently hard-riffing interplay between the flutist and typist — at the Kitchen, it was percussionist Nathan Davis — proved lively across each of the work’s three sections. The suppleness of the typewriter’s clicks, as heard in the hall, served as a reminder of the work of the sound designer Levy Lorenzo, whose subtly effective approach to amplification helped the evening cohere.

A balance of pretaped elements and live acoustic playing was crucial in Ms. Z’s “Louder, Warmer, Denser,” a work that samples and loops Ms. Chase’s own voice. By splicing some of the flutist’s conversational asides and spontaneous laughter alongside some more planned-sounding recitations, the composer managed to highlight the songful quality that animates this artist’s speech in casual settings. The live part for various flutes — including bass and contrabass varieties — occasionally imitated those prefashioned motifs, while at other junctures it seemed to trigger new twists in the work’s progression.

“Roots of Interior,” by Phyllis Chen, was another composition that interacted with Ms. Chase as something other than just a flutist. In the program note the composer cited as an inspiration the act of listening to two heartbeats “beating in counterpoint,” during pregnancy. The most involving part of the piece for Ms. Chase involved the flutist soaring over some shifting yet complementary heartbeat patterns. A finale that involved the player partnering with herself — made possible by a digital stethoscope attached to her — was a theatrical and touching idea, though for me it was not as sonically arresting as the rest of the composition.

By contrast, Sarah Hennies’s “Reservoir 2: Intrusion” initially seemed to sideline Ms. Chase, the better to focus on the composer’s instructions for eight vocalists from the Constellation Chor. In the early minutes, it seemed as if all the flutist would be asked to do was drone a solitary note — softly — as the singers drifted across the stage (and across a wider variety of hummed tones).

The flute’s stasis was not permanent. And while it was hard to pinpoint the exact moment at which Ms. Chase’s part began to move, by the end, the effect of a slow but steady descent was keenly felt — as was the gradual deepening of a connection between Ms. Chase and the other performers, thanks to some mirroring of pulses and exhalation effects. The composition also worked as something of a breather, on this program, in advance of a comparatively stormy piece by Tyshawn Sorey, who joined Ms. Chase as a percussionist for a performance of “Bertha’s Lair.” (The work was originally heard in an earlier edition of “Density 2036,” and was revised ahead of this performance.)

Performing well alongside Mr. Sorey — one of the most masterful player-composers of this era, in any idiom — requires a deep repository of strategies. Ms. Chase brought a substantial warehouse of tools to this meeting, venturing some whispery timbres while the percussionist was gently manipulating a small gong. At other points, Ms. Chase projected a rounded warmth during longer, tricky lines that collided with passages of greater percussive tumult. Toward the end of the performance, I had the feeling that I would happily listen to this duo configuration for a full set.

The evening concluded with a performance of Edgard Varèse’s “Density 21.5,” the 20th-century classic that has motivated Ms. Chase’s 21st-century pursuit of new repertoire. That brief work’s stark cries of heraldry served as a moving, climactic end to a show that was paced to entertain.

In progressing without breaks for applause over 75 minutes, this concert’s movement from one piece to the next was, at times, too smooth. Brief tape-music compositions by Bahar Royaee and Mr. Lorenzo (who also contributed an LED artwork titled “Light Flute” to the staging) were presented casually — essentially serving as interstitial music, while Ms. Chase darted between platforms inside the Kitchen’s space. Though as far as downsides go, this occasional sense of being too charged-up is the right kind of problem for an organizer to have during a multidecade initiative as demanding as this one.



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