LAURA VIKLUND: Even if you have worked on a lot of buildings before, this was not a typical experience at all. The willingness of everybody to be flexible and work together and come up with completely innovative solutions - I mean a lot of times my experience with a lot of contractors is like “Why on Earth would you do that?” and, we got over that mood in the first couple of days. Then, it was like, “OK, well how are we going to make this happen?” Everybody was so invested in making this successful no matter what it took, and it was just a really incredibly creative and fun experience.
Music: Joseph Haydn String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 76 No. 4 “Sunrise” performed by the Rolston String Quartet
00:31 ZACHARY PATTEN: Great stories are imbued with a strong sense of place, and special places are the intersection of collaboration, connection, and community. Like the opening of Hadyn’s “Sunrise” string quartet, the approach to the Olivier Music Barn patiently draws you towards its reveal, like gravity pulling you towards the sun. It beckons you, and as you drive around that final bend, there’s a pleasant familiarity, a pitched roof with a rustic exterior. Although its color folds into the land around it, there’s a clear sense that this is the heart of the ranch, a peaceful place, where all of our stories unite.
1:18 Since 2016, the Olivier Music Barn has been home to numerous musical concerts, art exhibitions, film screenings, and tours. It houses the visitor’s center, multiple sculptures and paintings, a state of the art recording studio, and the three Steinway concert pianos, available to visiting artists. It is the nerve center of the Cottonwood Campus.
1:40 Inspirations for its design come from some of the world’s truly great concert halls, like Snape Maltings, Wigmore Hall, and Glyndebourne Opera House. But it’s the Esterhazy Music Room that serves as the benchmark for the Olivier Music Barn’s design. Features such as the jewel box shape and the deeply recessed main window serve both halls to envelope the audience with sound while filtering in the outside world, inviting your imagination to wander, but not too far.
2:11 The inspirations, land, events, people, and the barn are all tied together through one thing - the ongoing spirit of collaboration. Like four string players that form one quartet, every person who visits contributes their story to the Olivier Music Barn. And we’re going to revisit the events and stories leading to the completion of this unifying space in this episode of the Tippet Rise Podcast.
2:43 MELISSA MOORE: I think the thing that I couldn’t really wrap my head around was that it was 8:30 in the morning and we had driven an hour outside of Red Lodge to someplace, and there must’ve been one hundred people there or more. My name is Melissa Moore, and I am the Communication and Administration Manager for Tippet Rise. There were people working on The Domo, there were people working on the music barn, there were people working on the residences. There were so many different groups of people. I just remember thinking I don’t know how they could’ve all arrived here already by 8:30 in the morning! And just to think that there was that much happening, that much work, and that much collaboration, and that much creativity going on in such a remote place, but that was also really close to where I was living and had been living for the last few years.
3:35 BEN WYNTHEIN: It wasn’t just the music hall, we were building roads for a year up to that time period. We were doing things on the ranch that had to get done before then and trying to get the land in shape so that it was presentable. My name is Ben Wynthein, and I’m the Ranch Manager at Tippet Rise Art Center. You know, and building a road at the same time that goes through every grazing unit on the ranch means all the fences come down and you’re moving livestock around to accommodate. I did all the reclamation for the roads so leading up to that time I was really busy putting grass back, and the same around the Cottonwood Campus - reseeding things and putting soils back where they need to be over the top of a major underlayer of construction. We pushed really hard to try to get something green over the top of everything. You can imagine. It’s not nice to bring guests to a construction site, it’s nice to bring guests to an art center.
4:27 ZP: In early 2016 in the small town of Fishtail, Montana, a large team of artists, contractors, staff, architects, ranchers, and tradespeople were making a strong final push to complete the multi-year dream of creating Tippet Rise Art Center and, for the first time, opening its doors to the public. But years before, all of this was just an idea, a dream to combine art, music, and the outdoors of Montana to move everyone who comes to visit.
4:58 LV: When we started working on this project with Peter and Cathy it was back in 2012, and that was before they knew whether or not the power lines were going to go across the property. So, before they were confident that they were actually going to be able to do this, which gave us this period of time where we could literally just try everything.
5:15 ZP: Through several twists of fate the recent Harvard architecture grad, Laura Viklund, and her husband Chris Gunn of Gunnstock Timber Frames were hired to transform a music hall idea into architecture. And if there’s one resource that’s paramount at the start of a dream project, it’s time.
5:33 LV: We would go up there for a few days at a time with Peter and Cathy, and drive around the ranch to all different sites, and eat meat, cheese, and grapes in the back of the car - talking romantically about what could possibly happen. It was nice because we didn’t have a deadline at that point, so we had the room to just dream about what might happen. So, we tried a lot of different iterations, different places, and different relationships with spaces.
5:58 ZP: Living in the spacious Montana landscape is a compelling notion, but if you’re going to create structures that will survive, it’s good to understand the natural forces like wind, rain, and snow that accompany the land. Observing older homesteads can give an insight into harmoniously fitting into the landscape.
Observing older homesteads can offer insights into harmoniously fitting into the landscape.
Photo by Erik Petersen.
6:17 BW: I remember a conversation with Peter Halstead prior to any kind of construction. He had been driving around, he’d been here by himself for probably several days just looking at things in the area. I think he was just contemplating and thinking. One thing that Peter had told me after that time period when he was explaining to me what they were going to do, was a barn with a homestead kind of feel. You drive around Montana and it’s pretty easy to pick out the ranches that someone put in where that person’s work was going to become part of the landscape. He picked up on that those locations are peaceful locations. They’re humble, they’re beautiful, and they’re peaceful.
6:57 ZP: Due to the severe natural elements, it’s rare to see buildings and homes that are overly exposed on the landscape. They’re usually tucked back into naturally sheltered sites, which can often be accompanied by the tranquility of trees and water.
7:12 LV: One of the things that we really liked about the Cottonwood site was the trees and the running water, which is not something that you have everywhere on the property. It had more of a cozy feeling than a lot of other places and it also still gave you this great view of the mountains. Cathy always wanted a barn because she felt it was the least intimidating form, like people were comfortable in a barn.
7:34 ZP: Not only is there a feeling of comfort, but for working ranches, the barn is a gathering place, a shelter for precious animals and equipment, and the place where everyone returns after a long day’s work.
7:47 BW: It’s the gathering place of all things that go out onto the land or onto a ranch. Usually, in the barn is where the saddles are kept. If it’s a big ranch and you have four or five guys coming in the morning to ride out and do their daily work, they’re going to be there before sunrise. You know, but they go out, and where do they come back, here. It’s a gathering place and also a place of peace and refuge. You know, I grew up with barns with timber framing very similar to the music hall - same dimensions and scale.
8:17 PEDJA MUZIJEVIC: When you come towards Will’s Shed and Olivier Music Barn, there is no doubt that there is a hierarchy in what is the meeting place, and that is the barn. My name is Pedja Muzijevic, and I’m the Artistic Advisor at Tippet Rise Art Center. So you’re drawn to this very simple structure, I mean the structure couldn’t be more simple. But, its proportions really draw your attention there.
8:42 ZP: The Olivier Music Barn’s size embraces the proportions of a traditional barn as well as a chamber music hall. The elegant exposed wood forms an awe-inspiring acoustic space through an ancient craft called timber framing.
8:57 LV: Timber framing is a form of craftsmanship where instead of using small members, like 2x4s, you use larger pieces of wood that are joined with a timber-joint. So, it’s like a male end and a female end, and then a peg goes through and holds them all together. It kind of started to die away when the common nail was invented and it became really cheap to produce a ton of nails. You don’t need trees to be as good to cut into 2x4s as you do to get big quality timbers out of them. Once the industrial revolution and mass production came in, timber-framing kind of went the wayside. Way back when, they used to hide the timber-framing in the walls, but now we expose it in the walls so you can actually see the structure.
9:35 PM: The proportions of Olivier Music Barn are so intimate and it happens to be, and I think every person is different, my preferred habitat for music is a small space. I like to be close to people. I like to play music that’s meant to draw you in, and not come out at you. So, already there I was friends with Olivier, right there and then!
“I like to play music that’s meant to draw you in, and not come out at you.” - Pedja Muzijevic
Photo of Pedja by Erik Petersen.
10:00 HEZEKIAH LEUNG: As chamber musicians and as a string quartet, we really thrive for the experience of connection. My name is Hezekiah, and I am the violist of the Rolston String Quartet. Having that audience right in front of us really creates a musical two-way conversation, and what’s so great about that is really what chamber music was meant for - this connection and this intimacy that we all thrive as chamber music lovers.
10:27 ZP: In addition to the intimate proportions, the final selection of wood type added a welcoming earthy tone to the space.
10:34 LV: We brought it down to larch and Douglas fir, which are both structurally very good pieces of wood that engineers love because there are solid numbers on them. They don’t have to do a lot of experimentation. Larch won out for several reasons: one, it’s more sustainably harvested. There’s a lot of standing dead Larch that was already dead that could be cut down. Also, the color - Douglas Fir tends to be a little more “pinky,” and I don’t think any of us wanted a full room with more pink. Larch has a nice, earthy brown tone to it.
11:02 ZP: Beyond color, the sympathetic raw materials make a more direct connection between hall and musical instrument.
11:10 PM: Olivier Music Barn is all or ninety-eight ninety-nine percent wood. And, I play the piano, which is a large percentage wood. So, wood is immediately a sympathetic matter to me, obviously visually first, because when I walk into a hall I first see it. Which is why I’ve often said that acoustics are first judged by eyes, and then by ears. We walk into a space and we have an impression of it.
11:38 LURI LEE: When I walk into the space and when you talk with some people, you can kind of feel how your instrument is going to sound already. My name is Luri and I’m the first violinist of the Rolston String Quartet. So, I could tell that this acoustic is fantastic already and I was pretty excited about it.
11:56 ZP: In 2016, when you could literally walk through the walls of the music hall, the impression Melissa had of her first experience of the Olivier Music Barn, was one of comradery and collaboration, especially during the midday moveable feast.
12:11 MM: We went into the Olivier Music Barn and they were set up for lunch where the piano storage is now. Myself and all the people that were working on the sculptures, all the people working on the Music Barn, Laura, and Gunnstock Timber Frames, usually at least one dog, maybe more were there. Everybody would line up, get their lunch, and the picnic tables also moved depending on where the construction was. But, I just remember the big long table -and again, I was curious how this gourmet food arrived in Fishtail in time for everybody to have lunch, but of course it was spectacular to have a nice hot meal in February, inside the Olivier Music Barn when you could still walk in and out through the walls.
13:00 LV: The lunch spot moved as the building was constructed and we were eating in the Olivier Hall for awhile and there was just this huge level of comradery. And then, when that was being worked on, we moved everyone to the visitor’s center. For a while we were on picnic tables outside. All the contractors would stop and regroup at lunch time, and we even had a Christmas luncheon for everybody.
13:20 BW: It’s interesting how people come together from who knows where to make something happen!
13:27 ZP: Collaboration is beautiful when you can invest your entire self, while being in tune with your team. And this is especially valuable when you’re blazing a trail into the unknown.
13:38 BW: You know if you’re going down a trail in the Beartooths and you see where people have stacked rocks on the trails. You know, maybe sometimes they’ve stacked rocks where the trail isn’t really obvious - they’re called a “cairn.” Maybe sometimes those meetings are kind of like that. You know when we were getting the art center built, you didn’t always know where that trail went. I mean it’s an art center, it’s not like someone just put a roadmap on the wall on how to build an art center. So, sometimes those meals I think were maybe just a little bit like a cairn on the trail.
14:08 MM: I think I was always excited or pleased to realize that the contractors and the people that were making this happen were ultimately very invested in how it would play out in a real way - that their job didn’t start and end with building a product, but thinking about how the people that work at Tippet Rise, the people that play at Tippet Rise, and the people that visit Tippet Rise would ultimately use that product and how that would shape their experience.
14:42 ZP: Creating an unforgettable experience for guests first required the building of trust and teamwork among the group, because once the time for dreaming turned into action, it was all hands on deck.
14:55 LV: We were trying to do this in such a tight timeline that, literally, I was doing half the architectural drawings sitting in the job site trailer on top of the hill, while the rest of the building was being built. So, it was a goal of staying like two or three days ahead of all of the contractors was the goal at that point, and making decisions on the fly. It was honestly the most incredible experience because I could set up in the Olivier Barn and then if something came up and the mechanical guy had a question, we could literally walk right over and discuss it and figure it out. I’ve never been a part of a project that had this much teamwork in it. We had times where we suddenly needed more hands to do something so all the plumbers would come over and help the mechanical guys or the carpenters. It was such a huge team environment and everyone was so invested in this by the end. It was kind of crazy, actually.
15:45 ZP: Melissa mentioned that the team’s sincere investment would play out in real ways, and a great example of that is how the contractors pushed their skill sets above and beyond, considering that small construction details might have an effect on musical performances.
16:02 LV: None of this was things that our contractors were used to doing. Like, the plumbers had never had to sound-isolate every piece of equipment they had. A lot of the details in the concert hall were very acoustic-based.
16:14 PM: In a way we performers, for the rest of our lives what we mostly try to work on is, how do we know what we play, what does it sound like to somebody that’s listening? And that has to do with many things, including the acoustics. So, in other words, what I hear when I’m sitting at the piano, playing, is not the same as what one hears in the audience. And so it’s that path that we’re trying to influence in a way.
16:44 ZP: The path of sound in the Olivier Music Barn is influenced by a six-foot halo that encompasses the space, and in the middle of that halo, the sound can rise to an even higher apex. The combination of these features contribute to the tuning of the hall, and is what ultimately gives the musician their canvas on which to create.
The combination of the halo and the greater open ceiling contribute to the “tuning” of the hall.
Photo by Melissa Moore.
17:06 LV: The part of the jewel box that’s been tuned here is to get a balance of early reflections and late reflections. You get the clarity and the reverberance, but not the echo. So, it’s like finely tuning it. And also, having that big halo right over the musicians is supposed to make it so they have an easier time hearing each other. So, that gives some of the early reflections, and then having the greater open ceiling gives that part where the sound has some chance to kind of drift back down to you.
17:32 HL: As string players, one thing we worry a lot about is projection because, you know, violins, violas, and cellos weren’t written for big spaces, and oftentimes in halls we really want to think about how we create this color, this magical color - it could be almost nothing in sound, but then we would ask ourselves, “Will the last person in the hall hear this?” Maybe the last person will think they’re not playing anything, you know? Will our intentions go through, will the colors actually convey a message to the audience? They will hear it because it’s a space where the sounds really go through.
18:08 PM: Even though it’s relatively small, because of its height, it has a grandeur. You don’t feel oppressed in it. So, it has this grandeur, but at the same time it’s so intimate. But then, that’s really where the acoustics come into play because the great hall takes you on a carpet and just propels you to a listener.
18:29 ZP: Embracing every moment as special in the construction process meant that there would be music shared even before the exterior was finished.
Music: J.S. Bach Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, Variation 13 performed by Christopher O'Riley
18:41 BW: They had put the frame up and Chris O’Riley wanted to have the opportunity to play in the frame when it was still just the skeleton. So, you could see the clouds, there was no roof. Beautiful frame, I mean the workmanship on the frame was fun to look at. So I carried the piano that was here over there on the front of a John Deere tractor, thinking to myself, “I’m so dead if I hit a bump, I am so dead.” So, I very carefully set this piano up right inside what is now the stage. There were no windows there, I just drove right up in there with a tractor. I set the piano in there and we flipped it on its legs, somebody tuned it, and Chris O’Riley played in the skeleton of the barn. That was my first concert.
19:30 LV: I mean, it is a barn, but it’s more than a barn. Like, you’re having this very ethereal, almost magical, experience inside of it. So, we were trying to make it an elevated barn, I guess, that made it more special.
It is a barn, but it’s more than a barn.
19:49 ZP: The three Steinway concert grand pianos and timber interior are protected from Montana’s extreme climate conditions by a rust-colored multi-layered exterior shell.
20:00 LV: We kind of jumped right on structural insulated panels, also called SIPs, which is the wall is made of a sandwich of OSB, which is like plywood, and then, eight inches of foam, or in this case five and a half, and then another layer of OSB. There’s a couple of things that are really great about this. One, is that you get a continuous layer of insulation on the outside of the building. So the structure is on the inside, and the insulation is completely on the outside. In your average house, you’d put the insulation in between your structure. That means that every sixteen or twenty four inches where you have a 2x4 or 2x6 in your wall - that is a thermal bridge, wood has bad insulation properties, so there’s a weak spot every sixteen to twenty four inches throughout. By using the SIPs and moving all the insulation to the outside, you have a much tighter envelope. The other perk of this is that all the panels are constructed in a SIP factory and then shipped to site. So, while we were building the timber frame and putting it up, they were already building all of these wall panels and roof panels. Then, they ship them to us all numbered with the windows cut out and everything, and we could put up one at a time. It went up really fast, like we had the timber frame up I think in one week, and we had all the panels on it in one more week. So within two weeks of being onsite, we had a weather-tight structure.
21:15 ZP: Although the interior needs to be protected from the elements, the deeply recessed and generous main window allows the audience and artist to maintain connection with the sky and land - a perfect setting for a shining performance of Haydn’s “Sunrise,” by the Rolston String Quartet
21:45 LL: So when I walked in, the window was the first thing you noticed. It’s in front of you and it’s really beautiful. You can see the beautiful scenery outside, and it’s so inspiring already. I always try to see the glow of the sun on the horizon, and try to share that vibe with the audience. I try to just shine as the sun!
A performance of Haydn’s “Sunrise” by the Rolston String Quartet.
Photo by Erik Petersen.
22:16 PM: The window in the barn is such an interesting thing to me because most concert halls don’t have windows. So, we are in an inclosed space, the idea being that you go into this world that’s insulated from outside. So, it’s such an interesting and incredibly connecting feeling to look to your left and see the wavy land of Tippet Rise, to see the skys, to see the weather, to be aware of the weather. We’ve been, of course, at concerts at Tippet Rise when we have had storms.
Music: Franz Liszt Funerailles, S. 173 performed by Stephen Hough
22:56 ZP: On a stormy summer evening in 2019, pianist Stephen Hough performed a musical program that explored the themes of mourning, death, and the afterlife.
23:09 LV: You could hear the rain very well on the roof and I was looking over at Peter being afraid that he was going to be really mad about that we didn’t isolate the roof. And then talking to him later, very relieved, that he felt it was part of the experience, and like this isn’t a big-city concert hall. It’s a totally different experience.
This isn’t a big-city concert hall. It’s a totally different experience.
Photo by Erik Petersen.
23:39 MM: I think there’s something about a shared experience that you have with a small group of people - I don’t know, just showing something to somebody for the first time. So, I think that’s kind of to me what Tippet Rise is - being a part of a troupe, a group of people who are all working together to put on a production. There’s so many different things that happen along that journey and the memories that are created. And to me, being a part of the team at Tippet Rise is just like that.
24:12 ZP: For years, the team had been working towards the goal of welcoming guests to the art center, and as the opening approached there was a sentiment of sharing, but without expectation.
24:23 BW: You know, it was hard going into it because what do you expect? I mean I’ve never been a part of anything like this, and I don’t think anybody that’s coming to it has ever been a part of anything like this. So I think, in terms of those of us who were preparing for the opening of an art center, and those that were coming to it, I think it was kind of probably a little bit of a mutual feeling there - we don’t know what to expect, we’re going to do the best we can.
24:46 MM: I mean we were really discovering it for the first time ourselves. You know, this was the first time that you saw the music hall without - I don’t know how long all the blue tarps had been gone, or the equipment had been gone, or the wood was taken out. And then, to take that and put it in a setting that everybody else has been working on for so long, and it sort of all comes together. It’s just such a magical moment. But I think in that moment, I wanted to see people have the reaction that I had from walking into that space for the first time.
25:24 PM: Well, you know, experiencing really anything in life is so much about expectations and managing expectations. And when you come from a blank state, whether it’s meeting a person, or tasting something, or going into a concert hall, or hearing music. It’s both most frightening and most liberating. Because on one hand, you have no idea what will happen, but that should also enable you to have the most immediate and genuine reaction to it.
Music: J.S. Bach/Gounod Meditation on the Prelude by Bach (Ave Maria) performed by Stephen Hough
25:57 ZP: Even the greatest artists are often unsure how their work will be received by the world, but if it’s approached with an innocence, a sense of collaboration, and a sincerity to share something meaningful without expectation, hopefully, it can become a joy to others.
26:16 MM: There is a sort of innocence at that time, so that was really lovely. Just to not really be worried because you couldn’t really mess anything up because we were just trying everything for the first time. There wasn’t a feeling of failure. It was a feeling of improving every single day. We have to be collaborative because I remember where it started and how hard we worked to get to that point. But, I do feel like there was a sense of teamwork in that first year and knowing that everybody counted on you and you counted on everybody else.
26:57 BW: You know what? You know why I didn’t have fear, is because I knew myself and every other person on that team had done their best.
27:06 LV: We lived and breathed the Olivier Music Barn for about fifteen months, and it was just so unreal. Everyone had their own role, but everyone was also completely in tune with each other.
27:20 ZP: Architecture can be a reflection of what we value the most. The Olivier Music Barn was designed to share in the joy of music and is a point of intersection for all of our stories. From the construction process to the musical concerts, there’s a celebration of collaboration, nature, and community. Its doors were opened to local friends and families in 2016 for the first ever community day event.
27:48 BW: I remember the day and there was a family out there, mom, dad, and three or four little kids, I think one was in a stroller and probably two little kids, and I was riding by on a horse. That little six-year old girl, the wonder and awe in her face. And I think that for me was a little bit of a turning point, like - there’s a lot of joy in sharing. The best thing we can do is build something beautiful and share it with the world.
28:17 PM: I really love the idea in the Olivier Music Barn that it connects us to nature, and of course we are nature - we humans are nature - so it connects us to us, also. And that’s the beauty of it.
The Olivier Music Barn connects us to nature, and we are nature.
Photo by Andre Constantini.