As the executive director of the New York City-based International Contemporary Ensemble — a group that often appears to be everywhere, commissioning new pieces by the likes of Steve Lehman while rescuing neglected operas by Hans Werner Henze — flutist Claire Chase has done as much as anyone to rehabilitate the reputation of European-informed modernism in the city that Pierre Boulez once scandalized with much the same aesthetic.
How has she done it? Part of the answer is that Chase and her ICE cohorts are just that talented; the breath control required by a piece like Kaija Saariaho’s titular work on this program isn’t just a technical issue, but an interpretive one. And Chase makes the timbral subtleties of avant-garde, extended technique really sing through this program, and soulfully.
Even though no electronics are involved on the album, it feels as though the legacy of abstracted, manipulated instrumental textures has inspired much of the playlist. Kaija Saariaho’s experimentations flow, after all, from Pierre Boulez’s early IRCAM explorations, and so it’s fitting that his early “Sonantina” is on the same program. Chase’s playful mastery with the piece is a generational landmark, in that the piece doesn’t feel played out of anything resembling duty (like either that of a monk to a religion, or a child to a plate of spinach). Hery playing comes off so joyfully, it almost makes you forget that you’re supposed to think this music is hard going.