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 will be on September 22-23, 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 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,” we commissioned Chen and 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 on April 27 with an event for the Philadelphia Science Festival that explores 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. Presented in partnership with FringeArts as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival, all performances of In Plain Air will be free.

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). He has written many works for ICE and its members, as well as American Opera Projects, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Steven Schick, Miller Theatre, Ojai Music Festival (for Eighth Blackbird and an installation by sound-sculptor Trimpin), the Calder Quartet, La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, So Percussion, MATA, and Yarn/Wire. Lincoln Center inaugurated its Tully Scope Festival with the premiere of Nathan's landmark work Bells, a site-specific, electroacoustic piece for ensemble, multi-channel audio, and live broadcast to audience members’ mobile phones.

The 2018 Aaron Copland Fellow at the Bogliasco Foundation, Davis has received awards/fellowships from the Camargo Foundation, Meet The Composer, Fromm Music Foundation, Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Jerome Foundation, American Music Center, MATA, and ASCAP. 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 has appeared as a concerto soloist with the Seattle Symphony, Tokyo Symphony, and Nagoya Philharmonic, and has toured Russia, Bali, Turkey, and Cuba.

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

  • Pew Center for Arts & Heritage