Claire Chase on New Music and the Dawn of the ICE Age
"The bus ride from Oberlin to Chicago," she mused during a recent interview with TheStreet at a Brooklyn rehearsal space. "You know, you do what you do on a bus, you dream, you reflect, you write, you listen to loud rock music, you eat junk food. You think about your life and you're kind of in between two locations, mentally and physically."
By the time she got to Chicago, she knew. She would found an ensemble based on what appears, in hindsight, to be a radical new business model. Ten years later, she is the winner of a MacArthur fellowship as the founder and director of the International Contemporary Ensemble, commonly known as ICE.
I spoke with Chase at the Brooklyn loft space that serves as the ensemble's East Coast headquarters, a space brimming with instruments and activity.The ensemble is celebrating its 10th anniversary season with an extraordinary series of performances at Lincoln Center as part of its 2013 Mostly Mozart Festival. ICE's concerts feature 10 premieres by New York composers in 10 concerts, including four performances of David Lang's whisper opera, noted by the New York Times preview and interview with the composer, and followup review of the first performance on Saturday, Aug. 10. At the root of the ICE model is the notion of collaboration at all levels of the musical experience: audiences, composers, musicians and business managers, marketing and fundraising, all toward the goal of building a musical experience rooted in individual communities but fluidly connected across the globe. It's a business model for the Twitter age, building on technology, travel and networking ideas unknown when the models for traditional ensembles were being developed over a century ago. It was during that bus ride to Chicago, thinking about her life, that Chase realized the experiences she valued most were those that involved working collaborations and group problem-solving, both in music and in marketing and community building. While still a student, Chase had thrown out an ambitious goal of getting 750 people to show up to a concert involving five premieres by five different composers. Typically, new-music concerts at Oberlin attracted about an audience a tenth that size, she said. New music notoriously has a problem connecting with audiences. It took her a year and a whole of networking and organizing, but in the end, "We packed the place, it was standing room only," she said. "There were more than 750 people there." That experience became Chase's benchmark for her own success. More than a musical experience, she had gotten involved in community building and marketing, working with composers and top, brilliant musicians on every aspect of the project. The combination of those elements, plus introducing audiences to the joys of new music, fired her enthusiasm in a way that a traditional orchestra job was never going to be able to do, Chase said.
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