She decided not to pursue an orchestral job, not to go to graduate school, not to settle down to an ordinary teaching schedule -- all that before she got on the bus. Then, somewhere "around Gary, Indiana," she recalls, the concept of ICE began to form, based on that experience of bringing 750 listeners at a new music concert at Oberlin. "I thought, you know what, maybe life doesn't get better. Maybe that's as good as it gets and that's pretty fantastic," she said. While she had shown entrepreneurial tendencies, even as a child, she had no formal business experience or training. "I literally checked out a book from the Chicago Public Library on how to start a nonprofit organization," she said.
But while these challenges seem extreme for a typical classical ensemble, for this group that set of challenges is more standard operating procedure. Chase recalled early seasons where the group staged performances for smaller audiences, often in unlikely venues, upping the number of premieres at each season and growing audiences in different neighborhoods in Chicago. Within a few years, they were doing series of concerts of up to 10 premieres by local composers. "It's kind of a modality at ICE," she said. "It's fun for us in our tenth anniversary season this year to revisit that idea. But to revisit it at a very different stage than the bars and the backs of pickup trucks and stuff that we performed on in Chicago. This time we have an opportunity to take that idea and present it at Lincoln Center." Premieres, by their nature, often involve extra work. Composers are often deeply involved in the rehearsals, changing what doesn't work, making suggestions, rewriting passages to exploit the strengths of the musicians. In those conversations, musicians and composers often find themselves equal partners in the creation of a finished performance or recording. That process, the workshop aspect of new music, is what ICE is all about. "It's a very ICE way of working," Chase said. "It's a jumping off the cliff kind of exercise. That's part of the roller-coaster fun of it." Trying to build that ICE way of working out to a global scale, the group has initiated three projects. The first is ICELab, which creates workshops for musicians and composers to hash out ideas separate from any public performance or formal recording engagement. Many of the Mostly Mozart premieres are the result of ICELab experiments. The second is the group's own record label, Tundra, to feature polished performances of its artists and collaborators. The third is a formalized Web site called DigitICE, http://www.digitice.org, where video of ICE performances are archived. DigitICE "embraces this idea of free public access," Chase said. The videos are high-quality productions. "The idea is to make the ICE live experience available to people all over the world within 10 days of each performance. We're not able to do these for all of our performances but increasingly we're able to do them for a good chunk of our season." Chase hopes that in the future, the archive can become as important as the live performances themselves. The two can work hand in hand toward the goal of developing a repertory for the future, long after this season's concerts are over. "It's a way of giving the artists and the composers and also the public a chance to allow this work to grow and breathe beyond its initial premiere," she said. Follow @CarltonTSC --Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York