Nicholas Chase receives support from the Oregon Arts Commission, a state agency funded by the State of Oregon.
Composer-performer Nicholas Chase’s boundary-stretching music has been described as “brawling yet taut” (Los Angeles Times); “crackling, witty” (Albuquerque Journal); “quietly provocative…compelling” (Textura); “brilliant” (The Strad); “powerful…spectacular” (Whittier Press); and “the human brain at its most imaginative” (LA Weekly).
For his Tuesdays @ Monk Space evening he will be joined by renowned violinist Robin Lorentz for the world premiere performance of his electro-acoustic piece Bhajan, a free-wheeling yet somewhat meditative four-movement work for electric violin and live electronics, which has been described “a pas de deux between violin and electronics.” Both Chase and Lorentz have deep roots in Los Angeles, and this performance—celebrating the release of Bhajan as a new Cold Blue Music CD—will mark a rare return visit for both musicians.
ROBIN LORENTZ has performed around the globe, from Queen Elizabeth Hall (London) to Carnegie Hall to the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) to the Grammy Awards (Hollywood). A champion for contemporary music, she spent over 20 years with the noted new music group California E.A.R. Unit. As a soloist and chamber musician, she has premiered many works, including John Adams’s Road Movies for violin and piano at the Kennedy Center and Yusef Lateef’s String Quartet Number 1: Bismilah at REDCAT, and she has been featured on tours by composers Terry Riley and John Luther Adams. Lorentz has recorded for New Albion, Cold Blue Music (appearing on five Cold Blue CDs), New World, O.O. Discs, Sony, MCA, Columbia, and Echograph and performed as soloist and small ensemble member on recordings by Bob Dylan, Scott Weiland, and T-Bone Burnett. She has performed solos for the films Other People’s Money and Back To The Future III and TV’s Northern Exposure, Gilmore Girls, and Animaniacs to name a few. Lorentz has served as concertmaster with the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Green Umbrella series, the Ojai Festival, the Santa Fe Pro Musica, and numerous other festivals and ensembles. She has also appeared with Aerosmith, Eric Clapton, Barbara Streisand, John Cale, Dusty Springfield, and Michael Jackson. She has been on the faculty at the California Institute of the Arts and in residence at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Columbia Universities, Oberlin and Eastman Schools of Music, and at the Aspen and Tanglewood Festivals.
Nicholas Chase’s music has been commissioned and performed by the Long Beach Opera, the Philadelphia Classical Symphony, the California E.A.R Unit, New Zealand’s 175 East, and numerous soloists, including violinist Mark Menzies and flutist Dorothy Stone. Chase has headlined festivals in Europe and the US as a composer, performer, and improviser, integrating kinetic visuals with strong musical statements. His interactive, site-specific composition NOVA: Transmission for FM radio and closed-circuit TV was exhibited as part of the Whitney Biennial in New York and his electronic light ballet Ngoma Lungundu opened the New Music+ Festival at the Janaĉek Academy in the Czech Republic. Chase was inaugural Composer Fellow at the 2011 international Other Minds Festival in San Francisco and in 2015 received a Certificate of Honor from the International Center for Japanese Culture in Tokyo, Japan, for his koto and cello duo Gayate.
Chase earned an MFA in Composition/New Media and Integrated Media from CalArts, studying with Morton Subotnick, Bunita Marcus, Stephen L. Mosko, and Mary Jane Leach. Chase pursued additional study with Ziad Bunni of the Aleppo Conservatory of Arabic Classical Music, and later compositional study with James Tenney. In 2011 he earned PhD candidacy in Integrated Electronic Arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute under the advisement of Pauline Oliveros. Since 2011 Chase has worked in seclusion and spiritual retreat to develop his ideas on integrating Hindu mind/body practices, Hindustani Classical Music forms, and traditional Western Conservatory music and musicianship.
Artist Interviews: Nicholas Chase
What is the driving force behind Bhajan? What are the unifying elements across movements? Exploration! That is the driving force behind Bhajan. There isn’t any aspect of it that isn’t designed as some form of investigation both theoretical and physical—including my friendship and musical relationship with Robin. I couldn’t have written this for someone else. Another violinist would have thought I was crazy!
The violin part in Bhajan is very simply constructed and focuses the tuning of the open strings. Virtuosity is a traditional western approach to a large piece like this, but my idea in was to take traditional virtuosic acrobatics out of the concerto scenario and bring the player back to the fundamentals of playing. As it turns out that approach brings out a whole different kind of virtuosity for both of us. So the investigation takes place on stage between the two of us, in a kind of musical conversation. That’s a good way to describe the piece: if you think of the four sections of the piece as parts of a conversation, you’ll hear how they evolve out of each other.
How did you first become involved with Hindi devotional music and Indian raga? What about this music speaks to you the most? I’m not actually involved with Hindi devotional music and know very little about it. I studied North Indian Classical Music briefly with Rajeev Tharanath at the same time I was studying composition at conservatory. I had studied Schoenberg’s atonal serialism extensively and I felt like I that gave me an interesting springboard to dive into the deeper traditions of raga.
Rajeev discovered that I have a great ear for subtle tunings, tonalities and complex rhythms. I discovered that western formality—even serialism—was too constricting for me. What I love about raga is that within a single raga system the performer can shape her performance with limitless nuances and stylization. That makes the music both personal and alive. That is something I started putting into my writing early on in modular scores. Even though Bhajan isn’t modular, it tallies up everything I learned from writing those.
I started writing Bhajan during a research residency at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. At the time I was hanging out with acoustic technicians and I spent a lot of time talking and thinking about the physical phenomena of sound. I don’t know how I missed it early on, but I discovered that Hindustani music is also concerned with many of these aspects of sound making—with how the sound waves emanating from a string interact with sound waves emanating from another string!
I think it’s the unlikely but exquisite conscious union of science, skill, and craft that draws me to raga.
Bhajan was just released by Cold Blue Music in January 2017, but the performance at Monk Space will be its world premiere performance. What do you hope to communicate to the audience with the live performance of Bhajan? You asked about my involvement with HIndi devotional music above. What I didn’t say is that, even though I’m not involved in devotional music, through nearly a decade of committed yoga practice which I had to take up for health reasons, I realized that making music is my devotion. It’s how I communicate back to the world and the “worlds beyond this world.” What I mean by that is scientifically, we understand that we’re all made up of vibrations. As musicians I think that we’re perhaps more, or at least differently, tied to an understanding of those vibrations. Bhajan is a celebration of the bridge between what we experience and its vibrational source and is a humble offering to that. You know, when someone waves at you, you wave back. Bhajan is me and Robin waving back!
Artist Interviews: Robin Lorentz
How did you meet Nicholas Chase, and what was the collaborative process like with Bhajan? I met Nicholas Chase through the CalArts Community and through The California EAR Unit. We were both heavily involved with Cal Arts at overlapping times and non overlapping times, so were aware of one another; but my first chance to work with Nick and get to know him was with the EAR UNIT. Nick wrote some musics for the Unit and so we worked, travelled and concertized together.
The collaborative process on Bhajan with Nick was indescribably and wonderfully prismatic.
Every moment a new birth and breath…just like the piece. I love Bhajan so very very. To have been involved with it in any way has been the richest gift.
You have performed for an incredibly diverse range of artists, composers, and projects. What have you gained from these diverse experiences? Continous joy!