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Big Ears presents Nief-Norf performing John Luther Adams’ ‘INUKSUIT’ at Knox Botanical Gardens

Nief-Norf performs John Luther Adams’ INUKSUIT & Yaz Lancaster’s sequoia at Knoxville Botanical Gardens & Arboretum

On Sunday, April 18 at 2pm and 5pm, the Big Ears Festival will present Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams’ seminal outdoor piece, Inuksuit. The work will be performed by the acclaimed Knoxville-based contemporary music ensemble, Nief-Norf, and offered free-to-the-public at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens. Big Ears previously worked with Nief-Norf to present Inuksuit as the fondly remembered closing event of the 2016 Big Ears Festival. 

Inuksuit — a 70-minute piece — has been described by the New York Times as “the ultimate environmental piece,” while the New Yorker’s Alex Ross hailed it as “one of the most rapturous experiences of my listening life.”

The performances for Sunday, April 18 will feature roughly 25 musicians widely dispersed throughout the upper meadow at the Gardens — making it easy for audiences to enjoy the experience while maintaining healthy social distance.

“Each performance of Inuksuit is different,” Adams explains, “determined not just by the ensemble but by the topology and vegetation of the site — even by the songs of the local birds. The musicians are dispersed throughout a large area, and the listeners are free to discover their own individual listening points, which actively shapes their experience. This work is intended to expand our awareness of the never-ending music of the world in which we live, transforming seemingly empty space into more fully experienced place.”

The concert will open with Yaz Lancaster’s 2019 composition, sequoia, a 10-minute piece scored musicians performing on an array of ceramic flower pots. The work is a paean to the mighty endangered sequoias and a plea to interact with the natural world with greater grace.

The performance is free and open to the public. The program for both the 2pm and 5pm presentations will be identical, and patrons are invited to come for one or the other or both. Masking and social distancing protocols should be observed for the safety of both musicians and fellow patrons.

Made possible by the generous support of the Aslan Foundation and Moxley Carmichael.


The mission of the Big Ears Festival, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is to bring artists and audiences together to create and share transformative experiences with a borderless mix of music, film, and conversation.

Described as “one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over” by the Oxford American and “one of the world’s greatest music bashes” by The New York Times, the Big Ears Festival has established itself as one of the most exciting and imaginative cultural gatherings anywhere. The festival brings together a Who’s Who of established and acclaimed iconoclasts, innovators, and luminaries with inspired younger artists who are making fresh, new creative work. Big Ears is located in the heart of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, taking place in over a dozen historic theaters, intimate clubs, majestic churches, and unique alternative performance spaces. Substantial support for the festival comes from the donors and sponsors the in the Knoxville community, as well as across the country.

Nief-Norf is a multi-tiered contemporary music organization devoted to fostering creative collaboration among musical interpreters, composers, and scholars. As performers, educators, and curators, Nief-Norf delights in championing works from the established and emerging experimental tradition since their inception in 2005. Their flexible roster allows the collective to share their passion for adventurous programming concepts and interdisciplinary collaboration whether as featured soloists, chamber musicians, or with larger ensembles.

The Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum (KBGA) is located on 47 acres of former Howell Nurseries, featuring walking trails, display gardens, unique and historic horticulture, and over two miles of distinctive stone walls and timeless buildings, just 2.5 miles from downtown Knoxville. KBGA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that owns and operates the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum.  It is supported through donations and memberships. Thanks to members and local supporters the Gardens are free to visit and open to the public.