Sunday, July 17, 2016

All rise for Tippet Rise

The name alone is unusual enough to attract attention. But to witness what the words represent is  astonishing even when experienced on a chilly rainy Saturday outside Fishtail,  a small town in southeastern Montana one hour from Billings, the largest city in the state and not a place known for larger-than-life cultural attractions.
Tippet Rise is an ambitious new arts center -  possibly unique in the world - that opened mid-June on a 11,600-acre working ranch that is about as remote as any city sort can only imagine in a movie. The center features musical performances of an extremely high caliber  as well as large site-specific sculptures in commanding locations across the landscape. Owners and instigators of the project are Peter and Cathy Halstead, a couple in their 70's - visionaries with the money to make real their dream. Cathy has a Grey Goose Vodka fortune behind her; Peter, a poet and pianist, other income sources allowing them to hire and inspire top performers as well as architects and acoustical engineers. It's one of those  gotta-see-it-to-believe-it creations.
Perhaps most remarkable of all is that they were able to bring it off to such high standards seemingly without compromise. But then Montana, praises be, often surprises the die-hard urbanite. Locals know not to be surprised - or act overly impressed - by heavy professional credentials worn with panache. Caterers in charge of the $10-per-person late afternoon barbecue that recent rain-tinged Saturday included a Fishtail man who had trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. The buffet was scheduled to feed patrons who had come to attend both an afternoon and  evening concert dedicated in turn to the music of Beethoven, Schubert and  Messiaen.
Yes, an earful.
Many in the audience had bought tickets - priced at only $10, with persons under 18 free of charge - for both Friday and Saturday events and every other weekend to come through a final week in August. The opening season sold out quickly, Billing residents being among the most avid subscribers.
GPS will get you there but mobile phone service wasn't available (on purpose?) in the hall, called the Barn and named after Halstead family members like other equally well-planned structures on the grounds. Low-key garbed Mr. Halstead provided introductory remarks outlining the two Messiaen pieces, his long white hair and beard peeking out under what looked a cross between an Australian bush hat and a Canadian Tilley.
"City people have everything brought to them," noted Chicago Symphony clarinetist John Yeh, taking part in the second half of the program. "Here people have to go to it,"  he said approvingly. (It also helped that he found the acoustics in the Barn "perfect," and was impressed by Tippet having no less than 12 Steinway pianos on the premises. The result is an attentive and appreciative audience, captive in canvas-back director chairs under a large silver Calder  sculpture hanging overhead. Another Calder, an arresting black steel stabile, greets visitors near the entrance of the site - on loan (imagine the cost of transporting it there)  for five years from the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.


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