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Press Releases

Philadelphia's Christ Church Announces ICE Residency and World Premiere for New C.B. Fisk Pipe Organ by Nathan David and Phillis Chen

April 16, 2018 | By Katy Salomon
Account Director, Morahan Arts and Media

Contact: Katy Salomon | Morahan Arts and Media | 863.660.2214




Featuring a Year-Long Residency with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE),
Culminating in Six September Performances Presented in Partnership with FringeArts during the 2018 Fringe Festival

Watch the Trailer for In Plain Air 

Philadelphia, PA (March 27, 2018) — The Neighborhood House program of Christ Church Preservation Trust, a catalyst for the arts at historic Christ Church, hosts the International Contemporary Ensemble in a year-long residency to celebrate Christ Church’s new C.B. Fisk pipe organ, Opus 150. The residency culminates with world premiere performances of In Plain Air, a work in multiple movements by composers Nathan Davis and Phyllis Chen, on September 22 and 23 as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival.

Completed in 2018, Opus 150, a custom pipe organ fabricated and voiced over a three-year period by C.B. Fisk, Inc., sits in the gallery of Christ Church, directly below the iconic 264-year-old tower built to parishioner Ben Franklin’s specifications. Designed in collaboration with the church’s director of music and organist, Parker Kitterman, the instrument inhabits the restored 19th century casework that housed the church’s previous organ and a new Chaire organ on the gallery rail. To celebrate this new instrument and the organ’s historic backdrop in “The Nation’s Church,” Neighborhood House commissioned Chen and Davis to create an ambitious new work that puts the organ at its center.

On September 3, 2017, the C.B. Fisk installation crew arrived in Philadelphia with the restored organ case and the wooden/mechanical components of the new organ. Over 100 Christ Church parishioners and community members joined the crew in unloading an estimated 16-18 tons of materials. Components were arrayed throughout the sanctuary in order of installation, awaiting placement in the gallery over the next several weeks.

In November 2017, while the Fisk technicians continued to voice Opus 150, Nathan Davis and the ICE production team made recordings of eleven of Christ Church's historical bells for use in Davis' In Plain Air piece "Bellarmonic." Davis explains, "In bypassing the carillon mechanism, we are able to make longer sounds that aren't dependent on the single attack of a that the audience can have the extraordinary experience of hearing these wonderful and historic instruments as they actually sound in the belfry, rather than at a distance."

Longtime collaborators, Chen and Davis are members of ICE, who will premiere In Plain Air following a one-year residency period. Throughout the residency, the composers explore parallels between the histories of Christ Church and mechanical instruments — those designed to bring the community the fixtures of sound production (bells, the organ) and those that brought portable musical production into the community (music boxes and broadcast technologies). The residency will include multiple public programs, performances, and workshops, kicking off on Friday, April 27, 2018 with three performances exploring the science of the organ at the Philadelphia Science Festival. More programs will be announced throughout the spring and summer of 2018.

The project concludes on September 22 and 23, 2018, when a dozen members of ICE join Chen, Davis, and Kitterman in performances of In Plain Air. Movements employing Christ Church’s historic bells, custom instruments, and itinerant musicians will convey audiences across the entire Christ Church campus before introducing them to Opus 150. Presented in partnership with FringeArts as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival, all performances of In Plain Air will be free. Major support for In Plain Air has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation.

About Christ Church 
Christ Church, the birthplace of the American Episcopal Church, was founded in 1695 as a condition of William Penn’s Charter. Known as “The Nation’s Church,” it hosted members of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution and Presidents George Washington and John Adams in the first decade of the newly established Republic. Among early members were Benjamin and Deborah Franklin, Betsy Ross, John Penn (William Penn’s grandson), and signers of the Constitution and of the Declaration of Independence, including Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, and Francis Hopkinson.

At Christ Church, Absalom Jones, the nation’s first black priest, received his ordination, a school was created to educate slaves and over 25% of Philadelphia’s free and enslaved Africans were baptized. Dating to 1744, the current building has been cited as “our finest Early American church” and one of the finest Georgian structures in America. Its steeple (1754), financed by a lottery organized by Benjamin Franklin, is the work of Robert Smith, one of America’s earliest architects. For 56 years, the steeple made Christ Church the tallest structure in North America.

Christ Church is a privately managed historic site that is an official component of Independence National Historical Park. An active Episcopal parish, the church hosts daily historical talks and tours.  

About Christ Church Neighborhood House
Built by the Christ Church parish to serve the residents of industrial Old City, Neighborhood House opened its doors in 1915. In the late 1990s, local artists seeking unusual, flexible, and affordable venues for Live Arts/Fringe Festival performances discovered the building’s large, open spaces. The Neighborhood House program solidified around that homegrown demand and the facility advanced with it, greatly aided by the significant initial investments of the William Penn Foundation.

Today, in addition to housing the Christ Church Parish and Preservation Trust offices, Christ Church Neighborhood House serves a core constituency of cross-disciplinary performing artists who imagine new and experimental works in our ADA-accessible, 110-seat theater. The reach of the arts programming extends beyond the building walls to include concerts in the Christ Church sanctuary and commissions for every corner of Christ Church’s historical campus.

In 2016, Neighborhood House took over operation of the Farmers Market at Christ Church, formerly N3rd Street Farmers Market. Every Wednesday afternoon, May-November, farmers, artisans, and the community gather on the brick pavers outside the church gates.

About the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)
The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) is an artist collective that is transforming the way music is created and experienced. As performer, curator, and educator, ICE explores how new music intersects with communities across the world. The ensemble’s 35 members are featured as soloists, chamber musicians, commissioners, and collaborators with the foremost musical artists of our time. Works by emerging composers have anchored ICE’s programming since its founding in 2001, and the group’s recordings and digital platforms highlight the many voices that weave music’s present.

A recipient of the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, ICE was also named the 2014 Musical America Ensemble of the Year. The group currently serves as artists-in-residence at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Mostly Mozart Festival, and previously led a five-year residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. ICE was featured at the Ojai Music Festival from 2015 to 2017, and at recent festivals abroad such as gmem-CNCM-marseille and Vértice at Cultura UNAM, Mexico City. Other performance stages have included the Park Avenue Armory, The Stone, ice floes at Greenland’s Diskotek Sessions, and boats on the Amazon River.

New initiatives include OpenICE, made possible with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which offers free concerts and related programming wherever ICE performs, and enables a working process with composers to unfold in public settings. DigitICE, a free online library of over 350 streaming videos, catalogues the ensemble’s performances. ICE's First Page program is a commissioning consortium that fosters close collaborations between performers, composers, and listeners as new music is developed. EntICE, a side-by-side education program, places ICE musicians within youth orchestras as they premiere new commissioned works together; inaugural EntICE partners include Youth Orchestra Los Angeles and The People's Music School in Chicago. Summer activities include Ensemble Evolution at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, in which young professionals perform with ICE and attend workshops on topics from interpretation to concert production. Yamaha Artist Services New York is the exclusive piano provider for ICE. Read more at  

About Phyllis Chen
Phyllis Chen is a pianist, toy pianist, composer, educator, and curator, whose musical interests have led in numerous directions as a soloist and collaborative artist. She is dedicated to performing and promoting new works to engage audience in concerts and educational programs. Described as “a dazzling performer who wrings novel sounds from the humble toy piano,”(The New York Times) and “a bold pianist with an excellent sense of color” (LA Times), Chen is the founder of the UnCaged Toy Piano, an annual toy piano composition competition and biennial festival in NYC. As a composer, She has received commissions and grants from the Singapore International Festival of the Arts, Fromm Music Foundation, NYSCA, New Music USA, Baryshnikov Arts Center, A Far Cry, Opera Cabal, and others. Chen has released five albums, including three solo albums. Her fifth album, Nature of Thingness (Starkland), featuring chamber works by Chen and Nathan Davis, won the 2016 Independent Music Award for best Contemporary Classical album.

About Nathan Davis
Nathan Davis "writes music that deals deftly and poetically with timbre and sonority" (The New York Times). His opera/ballet "Hagoromo" premiered at the BAM Next Wave Festival produced by American Opera Projects, and Lincoln Center inaugurated its Tully Scope Festival with the premiere of “Bells,” a site-specific, electroacoustic piece for ensemble, multi-channel audio, and live broadcast to audience members’ mobile phones. Davis has received commissions from ICE and its members, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Steven Schick, Miller Theatre, Ojai Music Festival, the Calder Quartet, Third Coast Percussion, and Yarn/Wire, with premieres at Tanglewood, Park Avenue Armory, and Carnegie Hall.

The 2018 Aaron Copland Fellow at the Bogliasco Foundation, Davis has received awards/fellowships from the Camargo Foundation, Meet The Composer, Fromm Music Foundation, Jerome Foundation, American Music Center, MATA, and ASCAP. He and Phyllis Chen won an NY Innovative Theater Award for their score to Sylvia Milo's play The Other Mozart. After serving on the faculty of Dartmouth College for eight years, Davis teaches composition and electronic music at Montclair State University. An active percussionist, he performs with ICE; appeared as a concerto soloist with the Seattle Symphony, Tokyo Symphony, and Nagoya Philharmonic; and has toured Russia, Bali, Turkey, and Cuba. 

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