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WMPAC presents: acclaimed pianist, weatherized piano, ski trails, sunset

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Pianist Hunter Noack performs Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy in the presence of Lone Mountain as the sun sets. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

‘In a Landscape’ takes the performing arts outdoors

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – The attendees of the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center’s “In a Landscape” performance on Dec. 27 and 28 were not seated but rather walking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Most were actually too far to hear the music clearly from its source: the Big Sky Resort golf course’s driving range, where it resonated from a 1912 nine-foot Steinway piano on a flatbed platform. At its helm, in metallic futuristic-looking gloves that allow his hands dexterity in the below-freezing temperatures is award-winning concert pianist Hunter Noack.

His performance, broadcasted via Bluetooth headphones, is part of a series in its sixth year called Classical Music in the Wild, founded by Noack with the mission of bringing classical music into the wilderness so that the experience of listening to it can be enjoyed—and enhanced—by the surrounding landscape.

“We are so excited to be here and just so grateful to John [Zirkle] and the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center for taking a chance and for hosting us and making us feel so welcome,” said Noack between sets. “As I overheard John (WMPAC’s executive director) say yesterday, there are a million things that could have gone wrong, so it’s sort of a miracle that this is working.”

The “million things” included transporting the piano via snowcat onto the golf course, creating the 1,000-yard labyrinth of groomed ski trails, made possible by Lone Mountain Ranch, and putting on three different shows, one of which was at 8 p.m. by the light of a nearly full moon. Just as the pianist wore warm gloves in the outdoor concert, the Steinway has enhancements of its own that make it more resistant to humidity and temperature changes.

Although it was his first time performing in Montana, Lone Mountain and its neighbors in the Madison Range felt like a natural backdrop. Since 2016, In a Landscape has performed 83 concerts in 72 different locations including Oregon, Washington and California and has been critically acclaimed by media outlets including CBS This Morning, the LA Times, PBS and TED.

Before the conclusion of the show, Zirkle spoke of how WMPAC had adapted the theater’s winter lineup to COVID-19, including an enhanced air filtration system, shorter shows, requiring masks indoors, limited and spaced seating and by offering virtual shows for those who feel safer viewing with their families from home.

“If you have the opportunity to support artists, wherever your community is, whether that’s Big Sky or somewhere out there, we encourage you to please do that,” Zirkle said on stage. “Remember, more than 50 percent of artists are out of work right now. This is an incredibly difficult year, and artists are going to be some of the people who come back last, way after the vaccine is distributed, so thank you in advance for any support that you can provide.”

WMPAC’s next performance, and first of the new year, is the Big Sky Laugh Fest on Jan. 8 and 9 featuring three acclaimed stand-up artists, Sara Schaefer, Brian Simpson and Adam Cayton-Holland.

Just as WMPAC explores new avenues for keeping the arts alive and accessible this winter and through a global pandemic, the evening’s attendees too, are exploring the landscape around them, accompanied by their music-filled headphones. Signs around the golf course instruct direction as well as encourage patrons to do something that not many theaters often do—wander.

Prior to Noack’s final piece, Zirkle thanked guests for attending and motioned to the landscape around him as it slowly turned the shades of orange and pink that comes with the conclusion of another day.

“Thank you for joining tonight and let’s enjoy that beautiful sunset together,” he said.

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