These Symphony-commissioned feature articles offer insights into the music you’ll hear in the concert hall.

Feb 1, 2023

Claire Chase Unveils Pan

Claire Chase Unveils Pan
Flutist and SF Symphony Collaborative Partner Claire Chase presents Marcos Balter’s Pan in the Symphony’s SoundBox space on February 24 and in Paris on March 12 as part of the Orchestra’s tour to Europe. Chase previously recorded excerpts from Pan in her SoundBox: Metamorphoses program, available to stream on the Symphony’s YouTube channel. Chase spoke about Pan when that program launched in 2021.

On Marcos Balter
I’ve worked with Marcos for nearly 20 years. I think he's one of the leading lights in my generation of artists, artist-teachers, and arts advocates. He’s a powerful creative force for change in the field, a deeply progressive thinker and educator, and such a wonderful collaborator and friend. I can’t say enough about him.

On the myth of Pan
Pan was a mythical powerhouse and a trickster and, yes, a very charming and talented piper. But he violently misused his power, mistreated his flock, and mercilessly abused and erased women. As the myth goes, Pan crafted his pan-flute out of the body of the water nymph Syrinx—essentially, he destroyed his beloved and then stole her voice. We don’t need to look far to find historical and contemporary enactments of this type of behavior. So, while it may be a Greek myth, it is also very much a story about today.

On the music of Pan
Our version of the story plays with the transformation of this mythical pan-flute from an instrument made of wood to a piccolo, then to a C flute, a bass flute, and later a contrabass flute. It also plays with the ancient Greek notion of the chorus as a kind of community conscience. Our chorus—the music for which is written such that it can be learned by any group of community members, of any age or ability—plays a range of instruments including tuned wine glasses, tuned wine bottles, triangles, and bamboo and metal chimes. The chorus undergoes its own metamorphosis from a group initially enraptured with Pan’s instruments and his music to a group that slowly dispels that myth, recognizes Pan’s misdeeds, and ultimately turns against him in protest.

On the lessons of Pan
Pan asks questions that were asked thousands of years ago about the relationship between powerful leaders and the people they profess to serve. In our version of the story, the voice of Syrinx is restored at the end and lives on in the consciousness of the chorus. But redemption is not so easy: Pan’s death itself is a violent one, born of a cruel battle with an equally oppressive God of musical prowess (Apollo), and both the chorus and audience are left to wonder if and how justice was or can in fact be served.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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