Claire Chase | Interview
The flutist and International Contemporary Ensemble cofounder on her MacArthur grant.
Mind-blowingly talented flutist Claire Chase, artistic director and CEO of International Contemporary Ensemble, was named a recipient of a MacArthur Award genius grant in early October, scooping up $500,000 for showing “exceptional merit and promise for continued and enhanced creative work.” The 34-year-old former Chicagoan, now based in Brooklyn, dishes via e-mail on the life-changing phone call.
What were you doing when you found out about the award?
I was in sound-check for a show [in Guangzhou, China]. I’d gotten a string of missed calls from a mysterious number and thought to myself, What could be so terribly important to call six times in a row? I headed out to the street to search for a quiet spot to call. I could barely hear the conversation, so I ducked into a restaurant, making desperate sign-language gestures to the hostess to let me crouch in the bar area for a minute, and was promptly ushered out. I then found a stoop and was kicked off by an elderly woman who pointed to a no loitering sign. It was all pretty hilarious and surreal. It’s enormously wonderful, terrifying, exhilarating, empowering and humbling all at once.
How did you celebrate?
I asked a small group of friends to hold October 2 for dinner at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, Barboncino. I said I had “some exciting news” and wanted to share it with my nearest and dearest. A couple of them circulated rumors about what the news might be—that I was pregnant, that I’d fallen in love in China and was getting married, that I was moving to Brazil. It was a small, very jet-lagged celebration, but it was incredibly lovely and touching for me that they could all be there, and we ate and drank ourselves silly, laughed like schoolgirls, and cried a fair amount too.
What opportunities will this open up for you?
My hope is that the “unprecedented freedom and opportunity” that the MacArthur Foundation speaks about in its eloquent letter to the fellows is a space that I will be able to embrace whole-heartedly and fearlessly over the next five years. It’s also a space that I’m excited to share with my many ferociously talented, hardworking, visionary colleagues. It’s very important to me that this award becomes a springboard for new work, new projects, new risks, new shared adventures—not simply an acknowledgment of the work that’s been done.
Do you have any specific plans for the award money?
My treat was pizza with my pals! That’s the extent of any extravagance I’m planning. I want to be very smart about how I do this, so that a half million dollars and a life-changing endorsement become much more than that for all of us [in the music community] over the next 10, 15, 20 years. I’m not using the MacArthur money for this, but I am taking a few days off in between my West Coast concerts next week to decompress alone in a yurt in the mountains of Northern California, to reflect on these things away from all the noise. I’m sort of a hippie at heart, I suppose.
International Contemporary Ensemble kicks off its seventh season December 8 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography.