In Plain Air

In Plain Air is a work in multiple movements by composers Nathan Davis and Phyllis Chen for Christ Church’s new C.B. Fisk pipe organ. Premiere performances by International Contemporary Ensemble, presented in partnership with FringeArts, will be in September 2018.

In Plain Air Trailer

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 steeple built with funds raised by parishioner Ben Franklin. 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,” we commissioned Phyllis Chen and Nathan Davis to create an ambitious new work that puts the organ at its center.


Longtime collaborators, Chen and Davis are members of the acclaimed International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), who will premiere In Plain Air in September 2018. Over a one-year residency period, the composers are exploring parallels between the histories of Christ Church and mechanical instruments—those designed to bring the community to 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 April 27 with an event for the Philadelphia Science Festival that explored the science of the organ.

The project concludes in September 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.

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,”(NY 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.

Nathan Davis


Nathan Davis "writes music that deals deftly and poetically with timbre and sonority" (NY 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.

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.
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.


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.

Major support for In Plain Air has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation and Arthur Judson Foundation.