Peter Halstead, co-founder of Tippet Rise Art Center, which opened 17 June in Fishtail, Montana, calls it 'the most beautiful place in the world'. There’s no way to know for sure, but it must be up there.
The stunning new complex, nestled into a rise in the emerald green and clay-red foothills of the area’s snow-capped mountain ranges, consists of intimate indoor and outdoor classical music venues and oversized outdoor sculpture, scattered around the rolling 11,500 acre property. Think of it as an exceptional, mega-sized cross between Storm King and Tanglewood, infused with the giant skies and head shaking beauty of Montana.
The compound’s music and art inform each other. Watching one of the small performances here (they’re capped at 100–150 people, so you feel like you’re at Halstead and his wife Cathy’s home more than a concert hall) permeates the landscape with a sense of punctuated order and majesty, particularly as they're framed by the large window behind the performers inside the Olivier Music Barn, the centre’s main music hall.
And just knowing that in the distance the landscape swallows up and enhances striking, constructed art from the likes of Alexander Calder, Patrick Dougherty, Mark di Suvero and Stephen Talasnik gives you an instinctive connection to these surroundings. Many of the pieces are quite large: three concrete sculptures literally cast out of the earth by Ensamble Studio weigh more than half a million pounds each. But they’re still dwarfed by the incalculably vast surroundings. 'You just don’t fight the scale here,' says Alban Bassuet, Tippet Rise’ director. 'It’s a losing battle.'
This is why his team switched course after hosting an architectural competition for the Olivier Barn. They decided nothing would or could compete with the infinite landscape, opting instead to give it the simplest design they could – a rusted steel clad building (albeit with world-class acoustics, hosting top performers from around the world) that echoes the area’s tawny streaks of earth and dried grass, not to mention its local vernacular. Inside, the lofty space reveals a traditional exposed timber frame construction. The outdoor venue, down a small slope from the barn, is framed in pine and topped with plywood baffles.
To maintain Tippet Rise’ close connection to the countryside, the designers buried most of its considerable infrastructure – including geothermal heat pumps, water collection, plumbing and solar panels – underground, or hid them behind earthen berms.
'It was like building a new city,' notes Bassuet. Only it’s a city dominated by art, music, and nature that feels about as far from a metropolis as you can get. 'It’s all about the visceral connection to nature and the vast landscape,' he adds.
The resulting creation, adds Cathy Halstead, breaks down the rigid, often inaccessible walls of concert halls and galleries. 'This feels like the frontier. It’s an adventure for everyone who comes here.'