New music venue aims big by going small in vast west
Winding through the arid green hills, the highway gives way to a rugged gravel road ending at a lonesome gate like so many in this land of ranches. Inside lies an experiment in music, sculpture and how to present art in the 21st century.
Inaugurated this summer, the 4,700-hectare estate called Tippet Rise is the brainchild of a wealthy couple of free spirits who are fulfilling a lifelong goal of creating their own classical music venue.
The Tippet Rise Art Center, hidden some 105 kilometers from Montana’s largest city Billings, aims to marry art to the American West’s overpowering natural openness, with musicians at times performing outdoors amid sculptures in view of the Beartooth Mountains.
While the ambitions and setting are big, the founders, Peter and Cathy Halstead, have deliberately gone small in audience size. With Montana famous for fast-gathering storms, most concerts take place inside an acoustically state-of-the-art barn with just 150 seats.
The intimacy is integral to Tippet Rise, with the audience invited to join beforehand in a gourmet buffet dinner featuring local produce and to linger around afterward to discuss the music with the artists over wine under a star-filled sky.
“Who wants to build Carnegie Hall? It’s already there,” says Peter Halstead.
“Think of all these things that were built in the ’40s and ’50s to show that you had a proud civic organization that could afford to have a big audience,” Peter says of the era of big classical venues.
“Suddenly we started noticing that nobody is in the big halls anymore. They’re half empty,” he says.
The Halsteads are more than just patrons of Tippet Rise, which is named after Cathy’s mother. Inside the barn, the Halsteads take unreserved seats for each performance, the bearded Peter sporting sandals and a faded bucket hat.
For a performance of Messiaen’s Visions of the Omen, Peter interspersed the dark work by reciting his poems about the Sept 11 attacks and sat beside pianist Svetlana Smolina, turning her notes for her.
Another concert in the barn celebrated Mark di Suvero, one of the leading contemporary sculptors, who sat in jeans in the audience.
Di Suvero is among the signature artists on display at Tippet Rise, where electricvans shuttle visitors to works across the estate. Di Suvero’s Beethoven’s Quartet imagines musical instruments in an abstract steel meld, with guests hitting it with mallets and hearing the sound reverberate through the hills.
With Montana’s harsh winters, the center does not anticipate concerts year-round.
When shows are off, the Halsteads envision Tippet Rise as a retreat, where musicians can stay with their families and practice on the center’s dozen Steinway pianos.
Cathy and Peter Halstead, founders of Tippet Rise Art Center that includes a concert venue and contemporary sculptures.
InvertedPortal, by Spanish Ensamble Studio.