Claire Chase is a flutist with a flair for the new, the adventurous, and the unexpected. She’s given the premieres of hundreds of new works for her instrument in performances throughout the world. In 2012, she was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant for her work not only fostering the creation of new music, but also building organizations, forming community alliances, and supporting educational programs.
That work is on display in Seattle this week when she performs as the soloist with the Seattle Symphony and Music Director Thomas Dausgaard in Aello: Ballet Mecanomorphe by Olga Neuwirth. It’s scored for flute, bass flute, and an ensemble that includes tuned water glasses and a typewriter. Chase gave the world premiere of the piece, an homage to the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, last year at the BBC Proms with Dausgaard leading the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
This week in Seattle, Chase also presents a solo recital of music by Marcos Balter as part of her innovative Density 2036 project. Chase explains more about this effort to generate new flute music, a project unfolding over a 23-year time span.
Claire Chase performs selections from Density 2036 on Friday, Oct. 11 at 7:30pm at Octave 9. She performs Olga Neuwirth’s Aello with the Seattle Symphony on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 8pm at Benaroya Hall. For tickets and more information, click here.
While cooking, walking, tending the garden, or washing clothes, the women of Haiti sing songs. For Nathalie Joachim, a Haitian-American singer, flutist, and composer, her image of Haiti is one of love, beauty, tradition, family, and, perhaps above all, music: it pervades the house after church on Sundays and communicates the stories and traditions of past generations.
On her new album Fanm d’Ayiti, Joachim taps into Haiti’s long musical history through original songs and arrangements of classics by some of Haiti’s legendary women musicians. The resulting compositions engage her Haitian heritage and continue these women’s messages of resilience, love, and hope.
On Fanm d’Ayiti, which is Haitian Creole for “Women of Haiti,” traditional songs are treated in a radically new way, with original arrangements featuring voice, flute, and electronics by Joachim and strings performed by the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet. Woven into the mix are recordings of a Haitian girls’ choir from Joachim’s family home, interviews with some of Haiti’s best-known female voices, and the voice of Joachim’s own grandmother. These elements come together to form something that feels both old and new—a musical language of tuneful songs, folk-style strings, stuttering electronics, and vibrant energy.
The album is set into motion with an arrangement of the song “Papa Loko,” which features fluttering string harmonics, skipping electronic percussion, and a bouncy arpeggiated bassline. This song segues into a recording of the Haitian singer Emerante de Pradines, who speaks about her feeling of unity with all female Haitian artists and leads us into the three-part “Suite pou Dantan,” a heartfelt dedication to the farming village that Joachim’s family calls home. Here, Joachim sings along with the girls’ choir over chaotically exuberant percussion, pairs field recording samples with steady drum tracks, and weaves winding flute melodies through the strings of the Spektral Quartet.
An arrangement of “Lamizè pa dous,” a song of African origin translating to “Poverty is Not Sweet,” gives way to the interlude “Couldn’t Tell Her What To Do,” in which we hear the moving story of the Haitian singer and justice-seeker Toto Bissainthe, as told by her daughter Milena Sandler over swelling string harmonies.
Side B of the album begins with an elegy-like arrangement of the traditional Haitian song “Manman m voye m peze kafe,” which feels almost like a theme and variations or a passacaglia with its continuous bassline, circling strings, and arpeggiating, marimba-like electronics. Two further arrangements of traditional songs follow: the grooving yet plaintive “Legba na konsole” and “Madan Bellegarde,” which features a contrapuntal duet between Joachim and the viola, a contemplative chorale of strings and flute, the voice of Joachim’s grandmother, and scattered blips of electric harmony.
This leads us finally into the interlude “The Ones I Listened To,” in which the voices of Haitian musicians Carole Demesmin, Emerante de Pradines, and Milena Sandler encourage both Nathalie and the listener to pursue their dreams despite hardships, and the title track “Fanm d’Ayiti,” a festive original song celebrating Haiti and its strong women, ending the album on a hopeful note.
It is important to remember that for Joachim and the people of Haiti, many of these songs are an integral part of their culture, traditions, and everyday lives. Joachim has said that songs like “Lamizè pa dous” are not only songs to sing while working, but were used by slaves to communicate with each other in ways that their oppressors couldn’t understand, much like the Negro spirituals of the United States.
In a certain sense, these songs continue to serve that purpose. Many of the Haitian Creole songs on this album were sung by women during the worst periods of intellectual repression and dictatorship in Haiti’s history as a way of maintaining their language and traditions—and it is these subtle acts of subversion that Joachim celebrates in her arrangements. On Fanm d’Ayiti, Nathalie Joachim continues the lineage of Haitian women who bring together communities, pass on their culture, and fight for justice through their music.
Nathalie Joachim’s Fanm d’Ayiti is out August 30 on New Amsterdam Records. For more information, click here.
In 2015, Amanda Gookin started a commissioning project called Forward Music Project. It premiered in 2017 at National Sawdust with seven pieces focused on issues that affect women and girls. Two years later, Gookin has returned with Forward Music Project 2.0.
True to its name, the project has taken big leaps forward. It now encompasses five new commissioned works that focus on more specific, personal issues for the composers, from body image to political oppression, sex positivity, and gender nonconformity. The performance includes electronics, video art by S Katy Tucker, and physically visceral cello playing from Gookin; the featured composers include Paola Prestini, Niloufar Nourbakhsh, Shelley Washington, Alex Temple, and Kamala Sankaram.
Forward Music Project 2.0 has an educational arm as well (Gookin is also a professor at Mannes and SUNY Purchase). Take a listen to find out more about the cellist’s latest step forward. To learn more about Forward Music Project 1.0, check out this episode of KING FM’s Classical Classroom podcast.
In celebration of Pride Month, Cornish College of the Arts musicologist Kerry O’Brien and early music specialist Byron Schenkman tell stories of LGBTQ+ classical artists from very different periods of music history. How do we talk about queer artists of the distant past when there was no such thing as being “out” yet? Is it possible (or useful) to identify what unique qualities LGBTQ+ artists have brought to classical music? And why is it important to talk about the stories of minority populations anyway?
Hear all of this—plus stories you may never have heard before about famous classical artists—in our audio interview with Kerry and Byron.
Three world premieres make up the concert program for Kin of the Moon’s next performance this Saturday at the Good Shepherd Chapel.
Kaley Lane Eaton’s FUNERAL SENTENCES FOR DAMAGED CELLS, written for and performed by ultra-soprano Emily Thorner, explores the voice as a conduit for expressing transgenerational trauma. It’s paired with two new works by Leanna Keith inspired by taiko drumming and Chinese tea ceremonies, respectively.
In this audio interview, Kaley and Leanna talk about their new premieres, about how Kin of the Moon came to be, and—most importantly—about crows.
Audio production by Dacia Clay. Audio engineer: Nikhil Sarma.
Kin of the Moon and Emily Thorner perform this Saturday, June 1 at 8pm at the Good Shepherd Chapel. For more information, click here.