“I think that experience of discovery deepens your attachment to whatever that might be. Whether it’s discovering that next hill or a piece of music, or a gorgeous work of sculpture.”
BY SARAH GIANELLI
Tippet Rise Art Center may be lying dormant under a blanket of snow, but if last year was any indication, when tickets go on sale for their summer concert season in early 2018, they’ll likely go fast.
Set on a sprawling 10,260-acre sheep and cattle ranch in Fishtail, Montana, Tippet Rise is a state-of-the-art classical music venue and large-scale outdoor sculpture garden.
Opened in 2016 by New England artist-philanthropists Cathy and Peter Halstead, Tippet Rise—its name derived from Cathy’s childhood pronunciation of her mother’s nickname “Tippy”—was inspired in part by Storm King Art Center, an open-air museum in upstate New York. The center is the realization of the Halsteads’ dream to share their passion for music, sculpture and poetry in a stunning natural setting, and expose others to the thrill of discovery that has fueled their own lifetime of service to the arts.
“I think that experience of discovery deepens your attachment to whatever that might be,” Cathy said. “Whether it’s discovering that next hill or a piece of music, or a gorgeous work of sculpture.”
“And not only do you discover the sculpture and this new way of thinking about the world,” added Peter, “but you discover something in yourself.”
At Tippet Rise, visitors have access to multiple means of discovery in tandem. Independent of the concerts, for which prices are astonishingly low, visitors can take free guided tours by bike, foot or electric-powered van that weave through the prairies, canyons and sagebrush hills of the old homestead with informative stops at each of the nine massive sculptures spread across the property.
In the morning, weather pending, ticket holders can attend a concert of international virtuosos under the arched, cave-like Domo, a monolithic feat of sculptural engineering conceived and executed by Ensamble Studios, an architectural firm based in Madrid, Spain. Designed for superior sound projection, the sculpture’s creation entailed a continuous 12-hour concrete pour into a rebar and plastic- lined pit that when hardened, was excavated by bulldozers.
In the afternoon, performances are held in the outdoor Tiara Acoustic Shell, an airy portable venue that provides unobstructed views of rolling hills crowned by the Beartooth Mountains in the distance. Evening concerts are performed in the Olivier Music Barn, an intimate, sleekly rustic concert hall meticulously designed for audiences to experience works by history’s greatest composers as they were intended to be heard.
“Imagine—people have never heard Liszt play like it was actually heard by Liszt,” said Peter, citing the prolific 19th century Hungarian composer as an example. “That’s why we built this hall, because we wanted people in America to be able to hear Bach or Hayden or Mozart the way they heard themselves.”
Peter says there are fewer than 10 halls left in Europe that can provide an auditory experience of this quality, and that there are none in America.
“There’s only this,” he added. “It’s like a jewel box.”
Tippet Rise is the realization of a life-long dream of founders Peter and Cathy Halstead. The artist-philanthropists wanted to create a musical and visual arts center where all components are elevated by the magnificent beauty of the natural surroundings.
Tippet’s impressive sculptures are exalted and humbled by the expanses of wide-open sky and snow-capped mountains that embrace them in a static, yet ever-shifting composition. From one perspective, the sculptures are dwarfed by their natural surroundings, from another, they loom overhead with breath-stealing magnitude.
Whether wandering through a whimsical one-room schoolhouse wound with dense tangles of willow branches, or gazing up at an eye-popping metronome standing 65-feet tall, all of the works invite viewers of all ages to tap into their inner reserves of childlike wonder.
Peter is an eccentric but endearing polymath, whose family fortune can be traced back to the days of Benedict Arnold when, according to one tour guide, “the Halsteads owned half of Manhattan.” Speaking with him is like opening a gushing faucet of rarified knowledge that careens effortlessly between quantum physics, classical musicology, poetry and cosmology.
Peter recalls a storm that ripped through following a concert staged at the site of Beethoven’s Quartet, an abstract, mobile sculpture of rusty steel and gleaming curves poised at the edge of a great chasm.
“The air turned purple, and there was so much particulate matter in the air it wasn’t like you saw purple over there, or a rainbow over there—you were living inside purple.”
Cathy, who has an equally impressive pedigree as the daughter of liquor mogul Sidney Frank, elaborated. “There was this beautiful work of art in this incredible storm, on this amazing land, and then you have Ariel String Quartet perform a Beethoven quartet that had so moved [the artist] when creating the sculpture. … That expression of those arts brought together, that deep human thought and creation in conjunction with the power of this incredible landscape is … beyond words.”
“You get to hear it through their ears. Like when you see something through the eyes of your grandchildren or your children, you see it for the first time. That’s the sense of discovery for us.”
In discussing art’s systemic value to humanity, while living in a society that doesn’t always seem to share that belief, Peter rattles off different means of measuring the universe—quantum physics, rulers, compasses, relativity—and describes art’s role in that context.
“Art measures the human soul,” he said. “Novels measure the ability of people to feel. Works of music measure the ability of people to think in ways that aren’t verbal. Painting says things that can’t be said in prose.”
The Halsteads are committed to keeping the Tippet Rise experience intimate. Concert attendance is capped at 100 to 150 people, and consciously sourced farm-to-table dinners are enjoyed at long picnic tables in a barn-like pavilion preceding the evening performance.
The center has attracted diverse crowds—from international connoisseurs of classical music and art, to area ranching families that may have never experienced the upper echelon of high culture showcased at Tippet Rise. For the Halsteads, witnessing the positive impact on individuals, families and the community is one of the greatest rewards.
“You get to hear it through their ears,” Peter said. “Like when you see something through the eyes of your grandchildren or your children, you see it for the first time. That’s the sense of discovery for us.”
Sarah Gianelli is the associate editor of Mountain Outlaw magazine.