‘Nightscape:’ Phantasmagoria – and more

The composer’s first trip to Longwood Gardens seeking musical inspiration for “Nightscape,” the gardens’ dazzling, multi-sensory summer display, didn’t exactly go as planned.

The Topiary Garden is transformed into a symphonic kaleidoscope of sound and color during 'Nightscape."

The Topiary Garden is transformed into a symphonic kaleidoscope of sound and color during 'Nightscape."

Jon Barthmus, a Philadelphia-based musician and composer , said he was thrilled when Ricardo Rivera contacted him. Rivera, the co-founder of Klip Collective, had been commissioned by Longwood to create a projection lighting and storytelling extravaganza, and Barthmus was his choice to write the music for the outdoor displays.

During a panel discussion last month at Longwood, Barthmus, known for his work as indie-electronic recording artist Sun Airway, said he expected to begin his musical journey at Longwood by spending several hours in the gardens after dusk, an opportunity to get his creative juices flowing. Instead, after about five minutes of sitting by the Large Lake, thunder and lightening struck.

A Longwood staffer quickly ushered Barthmus into a golf cart, which began lurching toward the visitors’ center. As the trees and foliage flew by, Barthmus recalled feeling like he’d been thrust into the movie “Jurassic Park.”

It turned out that Barthmus didn’t need more time. “I was really hit by this melody,” he said. “It really came together fast.” And although Nightscape visitors don’t need the image of Barthmus’ initial exodus to appreciate his evocative soundtrack, it’s one of many ways that Longwood is complementing the exhibit.

Visitors are enveloped by sound and color as they traverse Longwood's Flower Garden Drive during 'Nightscape'

Visitors are enveloped by sound and color as they traverse Longwood's Flower Garden Drive during 'Nightscape'

Barthmus spoke along with Rivera and Justin Geller, a founding member of Pink Skull, at “Artist & Friends,” a series designed to take visitors behind the scenes of the display with some of its collaborators. During the first program, Rivera discussed his background and his vision for the music. He said he chose two friends with whom he had previously collaborated because he knew they would understand what he wanted to achieve.

Nightscape was designed to fill the void created by the loss of the Main Fountain Garden during its 2½ -year restoration. It includes nine different displays, six of which are outside and three of which illuminate the conservatory. As viewers venture from one display to another, they get immersed in a phantasmagoria of color and sound, from the Silver Garden to the Large Lake.

Other Nightscape-related activities include the final Family Night of the season on Wednesday, Aug. 19. With a member reservation or Nightscape ticket, families can attend a free performance by John Flynn at 7 p.m. Kids can also participate in a scavenger hunt in the gardens.

At the Rose Arbor, a floral array undergoes a fluid transition that reveals uncharacteristic hues during 'Nightscape.'

At the Rose Arbor, a floral array beneath a full moon undergoes a fluid, multi-hued transition during 'Nightscape.'

Every Thursday night through Oct. 31, Longwood offers live music in the beer garden from 7 to 10 p.m. Visitors can order food and drink – beer fans should know that “Summer Zest,” a Victory Brewing Company saison, was made with Longwood lemons exclusively for the gardens – and savor sounds ranging from jazz to bluegrass.

The next “Artist & Friends” panel discussion will be held Friday, Aug. 14, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. when the topic is “Designing an Experience.” Rivera will be joined by Nick Fortugno, co-founder of Playmatics, and Josh Goldblum, founding principal of Bluecadet. Other programs focusing on storytelling will be held on Sept. 11 and Oct. 9.

Since the exhibit opened last month, it has continued to garner applause from crowds and some tweaks by Longwood, such as adding seats by the lake and creating some one-way paths to facilitate traffic flow. Because the exhibit requires darkness, the optimal viewing time, currently 9 p.m., will change as dusk gets earlier.

Nightscape presently begins at 8:30 p.m. Since the outside displays don’t peak until a half hour later, some guests prefer to start the experience in the conservatory, where it’s darker earlier, and then move outside while others prefer grabbing an early seat by the Large Lake so they have a prime vantage point when the lights begin to shimmer.

Whether you start inside or out, allow at least 90 minutes to view Nightscape in its entirety. Those unfamiliar with Longwood Gardens should plan on spending the whole day since so many spectacular floral vistas and arrangements beckon throughout the gardens’ 1,077 acres.

Plus, viewing exhibits such as the Topiary Garden and the Flower Garden Drive during daylight will enable guests to appreciate the dramatic transformation that occurs when darkness descends. The gardens close on Nightscape nights – Wednesday through Saturday – at 11 p.m. through Oct. 31.

Longwood officials said they have not made a decision yet on whether the exhibit will return next summer. The Main Fountain Garden is not scheduled to reopen until the spring of 2017.

To view a Nightscape map, click here. For more information on Longwood Gardens visit www.longwoodgardens.org.


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