Within a couple of hours after being temporarily furloughed from his job due to the coronavirus, contemporary classical composer Nicholas Chase was talking to his frequent collaborator, Bay Area-based soprano C.A. Jordan. “She said I should post a tarot reading about the current situation,” Chase, a Eugene native, tells me via Facebook Messenger.
The same day Chase, whose day job is as a digital archivist with the Lane County Historical Society, spoke with Jordan on the phone, he got two more requests for tarot readings. “I just started doing it,” he says. “It felt like a call to action.”
A composition Chase wrote for Jordan was set to premiere this spring in California, as was a performance by a Boston ensemble of another one of Chase’s compositions, a piano work for four hands.
All of those projects are now on hold.
Throughout his career, Chase’s interest in numerology has shown up in his music. For example, an earlier piece, “11 Ideas,” is based on tarot numerology, he says.
Chase is also inspired by yoga and Eastern spirituality. His last album, Nicholas Chase: Bhajan (2017), featuring violinist Robin Lorentz, is expansive, exploratory and mischievous — abstract symbol processing through the mind of Chase, a self-described “functional dyslexic.”
Chase’s work is also informed, to a large degree, by Hindu cosmology, using silence as energy, as well as Hindustani raga, “particularly the alap, which is slow, free-form improv,” Chase says.
It all touches, at times, on the mood and atmosphere of New Age music, but unlike New Age, Chase is willing to work with discomfort. “I have too much ’80s teenage punk angst to be comfortable feeling good,” he jokes.
With time on his hands, Chase is live streaming musical improvisation, like the fragmentary, Stravinsky-like “Broken Lullaby.” He’s playing music about space, when space is all we have in a style that is itself a kind of quarantine. It’s difficult to find ensembles willing to play new classical music as opposed to the old works, Chase says.
But for now, Chase will continue the tarot reading. “A friend told me years ago, as a joke, that I’d leave music and read tarot by the side of the road,” Chase says. “God, what a prediction.”
To follow Chase’s live streams, search NChase.music on Instagram.