Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Claire Chase: Density 2036 at Cal Performances

Space where the concert was held.

I was lucky enough to see the great flutist Claire Chase the other night at Cal Performances. The venue was the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and not in the theater where movies are shown. Instead, they used the stepped-down amphitheater right inside the building. Audience members with tickets could sit on the stairs; audience members without could stand and look down at the stage from the main-floor-level area.

It was one of those programs where, really, all you can do is gape, take notes, and come up with more and better superlatives, considering that Chase's performance was about as close to flawless as you can get. I mean, I didn't hear anything that sounded like an error or misstep, and she played for something like four and a half hours. It was an astonishing display of musicianship, technique, and sheer endurance.

I'd question just one decision she made about the program: her flutes were amplified for every piece she performed (21 in all), through a body mike. The venue was small and for most of the works, audibility would not have been a problem. Some of the pieces might well call for amplification, but I doubt that's the case for the pieces from before 2000 and certainly not for Varèse's Density 21.5. In some cases, the decision might have been made to make sure that the live flutes would be able to properly balance the recorded flutes and electronics. Fair enough, in those cases, but why for all of them?

As it happens, I've got a review of this concert in SFCV. I chatted with Louisa Spier from Cal Performances and heard that no SFCV reviewer was there, so partway through the marathon, I sent email reading "I'm at Claire Chase's program. Want a review? Signed, Former Flutist." They were happy to take one. Apparently the only other reviewer there was Joshua Kosman -- shocking, because, honestly, this was an extraordinary concert and I will fall over if it's not on both Joshua's and my best-of lists for 2017, or for the 2017-18 season.

Fortunately, since Chase is at the beginning of a 22-year-long commissioning program -- you read that right, twenty-two years -- you'll have a few more chances to hear her.

Nota bene: my word processor thinks both of these reviews are around 900 words.


Anonymous said...

Why do you get to write reviews of 900 words, whereas when I submit one of 800 words it gets ruthlessly slaughtered down into 600 words of incomprehensibility?

Only after this happened - because I'd never been edited like that before - was I told that we had a new, lower maximum word count. I've never dared exceed 650 since then.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Maybe because the concert was four and a half hours long? You might try sending a longer review to see if anyone notices.

Anonymous said...

I daren't risk it. I don't ever want to see it butchered like that again.

You didn't get, like, special permission beforehand?

Tod Brody said...

I don't have many flute heroes, but Claire Chase is one, and at the top of the list. She is full of magic and energy, and she makes good things happen. Astounding flutist, too.

Lisa Hirsch said...

"Full of magic and energy" is the perfect description of her. And yeah, she is astounding.