Seth Knopp

Artistic Director of Soundings: New Music at the Nasher

Seth Knopp, dear friend to the Nasher and Artistic Director of the museum’s highly acclaimed chamber music series Soundings, has lately been encamped in Putney, Vermont, where he is also Artistic Director of Yellow Barn, an influential chamber music center. While the pandemic lockdown led to the cancellation of a much-anticipated Soundings concert with Sylvia Milo this month, this Shelf Life list from Seth—sent in daily installments and full of deeply felt meditations on nature and his craft—is music to our ears.

Day 1

Each morning, before thought has turned towards the day or idea or concern, I can look out my window (without moving!) and have beautiful proof that our earth is still spinning. Each night the moon comes full circle, or in what Emily Dickinson called “a Chin of Gold”, and I get to see that too!

Day 2

Yellow Barn Music Haul—a converted U-Haul truck, outfitted to play both live and recorded music for public audiences, and whose maiden voyage brought her to The Nasher in 2016—is spending her recent days playing for food-drops, assisted living centers, outside hospitals for staff during their shift changes, outside grocery stores for people waiting in line, small neighborhood gatherings, and individuals.

Here she is playing between Putney’s General Store on one side (Vermont’s oldest General Store, built in 1796), and our paper mill on the other.

The listening faces of people at the Thompson House, an assisted living facility in Brattleboro, Vermont.

And finally, a lovely, impromptu video made by a friend and neighbor of a gathering, listening to Music Haul right up the hill from our house.

Day 3

Just two weeks ago, a current project led me to the website of artist and writer, Joseph Grigely, where I found his most beautiful of Artist Statements. Reading it gave me courage, and it has stayed with me.

Some years ago I was sitting in the New York apartment of a friend having tea and a conversation. A large part of our exchange had to do with the senses, and how communication involved a wide array of possibilities outside the norm of what it means to be human. Deep into the conversation, my friend told me a story about a blind baby who had learned to imitate—perfectly—the sound of a refrigerator and the sound of a car going over gravel as it approached the house. After a long pause in which we considered the implications of this, my friend turned to me and said: “Beauty is difficult. Never forget that."

Day 4

During this difficult time, I have begun a project I am calling Beethoven Walks, meant to provide solace in our collective isolation, and to serve a universal need to better understand our humanity through music and the beauty of our world.  

Beginning with several local forest trails near my home in Putney, these walks will incorporate reproductions of Beethoven’s musical sketches or leaves from his autographs, connecting those walking the paths with Beethoven’s music, his creative process, and the inspiration he drew from nature. At points along the path walkers will be prompted to listen to his works that correspond with these sketches. For some works, the placement of sketches will invite sitting or standing to listen, while others will lead people along the path. 

I am hopeful that these first Vermont walks will become prototypes for Beethoven Walks in similar settings everywhere, and certainly for one in the Dallas area! 

This is one of many sketches Beethoven made for his Mass in C Major, opus 86 and is a good example of their visual power, so full of a desperation to communicate. They have been causing me to question their relationship to his work in a new way, and remind me of those words from Joseph Grigely’s artist statement: “Beauty is difficult."


Sketch by Beethoven for Mass in C Major, opus 86


Nasher Sculpture Center
2001 Flora Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
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