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Monday, December 4

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Concert Wed Jan 25 2012

To Twombly (Timeless)

ICE's Claire Chase

Composer Marcos Balter heard something in the paintings of Cy Twombly. When asked by International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) founder and flautist Claire Chase to compose a work based on any piece in the Art Institute's modern wing, he immediately selected Twombly's Return from Parnassus as his choice in his head, but kept mum, not wanting to sway Chase in her selection until they had both seen everything. When he and Chase approached the Twombly, she immediately gasped. "That's it!" Great minds....

I saw the Twombly in question for the first time last summer. It was my first Twombly experience, save for a few small reproductions in art books. It snagged me immediately, too. The momentum of the work drags your eye from bottom left to top right, carried along on flutters of cursive handwriting and meticulously placed runic scribbles. You dart to and fro across the canvas, drawing imaginary lines through matched patterns, reading, re-reading, and then unreading the text fragments, transforming it from text back to pattern and back to text, carried along in the hubbub and the promise of near-comprehension. It's no great surprise that a composer, especially one working in an avant-garde idiom, would spark on Twombly's its way of marshaling abstract energies, binding them into near-meaning with the thinnest strands of structure.

Cy Twombly, Return from Parnassus (fragment)

Using the visual strategies of Twombly and the poetry of Dante (the first canto of Paradiso), Balter created Descent from Parnassus, a piece for solo flute and voice performed by Chase. Chase acts as both speaker and performer, simultaneously -- no predictable recite-play-recite alternating here. Claire speaks Dante's words through the flute, sometimes embellished with pitched notes, sometimes singing through it, her breathless delivery spilling forth without rests. (One can only imagine Rahsaan Roland Kirk somewhere up top, vigorously nodding his approval.) Says Chase, "There is nowhere to breathe, so I've chosen to inhale certain spoken or sung pitches instead of exhaling them, so as to eliminate any break between the lines - this sounds really cool, but the act dramatically increases your chances of literally choking. So, the piece requires some choking-management-techniques. I might hang a Health Dept poster up in the hall with instructions on back blows and abdominal thrusts, just in case."

In addition to the debut of Descent from Parnassus, Chase will also perform several other pieces for solo flute, including Iannis Xenakis' Dmaathen (augmented by percussionist Svet Stoyanov), Toru Takamitsu's Toward the Sea, and arguably the most legendary modern classical composition for solo flute of all time, Edgard Varese's Density 21.5. Stoyanov will also perform a new arrangement of Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint for solo percussion.

The event takes place at the Art Institute of Chicago's Fullerton Hall this Friday, January 27, at 6 p.m. The museum closes at 5, after which the auditorium will open at 5:40 for quick seating, which is first come, first served. Best of all, it's FREE.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


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