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The pandemic not only inspired Murray Hidary’s ‘Distanced Together,’ it gave him time to write it

The pianist and composer talks about his massive sonic installation at Mass MoCA and this weekend’s upcoming performances.

A sonic installation of "Distanced Together," a new piece for 60 musicians by Murray Hidary, is on display at Mass MoCA's Hunter Center until Feb. 4. The piece's live premiere is scheduled for Jan. 27.Joe Aidonidis

After pianist and composer Murray Hidary graduated from New York University with a major in classical music composition in the early ‘90s, he ended up following his older brother into the burgeoning technology sector. “At 22, I was like, how am I going to make money with this degree?” Hidary said in a phone interview.

Together, the brothers founded a company called EarthWeb, which offered a suite of services, including website design and online marketing, to clients such as New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Still, music was never far from his mind during his decades in tech. “At the end of every day, I would just sit at the piano and destress and rebalance,” said Hidary.


Starting about 10 years ago, he channeled his interests in music, meditation, and technology into founding the music company MindTravel. He offered “silent” concerts in which audience members listened to his original compositions through wireless headphones, leaving them free to wander around the outdoor performance areas without missing a note.

“Everyone has a front-row seat,” Hidary said. “Some people are five feet from the piano because they really want to watch. Some people are 200 feet away with their feet in the ocean . . . once someone thought [the headphones] were waterproof and went in the ocean, so we lost one.”

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams opened a sonic installation of “Distanced Together,” a new composition by Hidary for 60 string players. In the installation, which is on display until Feb. 4 in the museum’s Hunter Center, 60 speakers are arranged in a circle, with each speaker standing in for a single musician and playing a single pre-recorded part.

This coming weekend, the museum hosts the live premiere of the piece, featuring members of New York-based new music ensemble Contemporaneous alongside local musicians, all under the direction of Contemporaneous co-artistic director David Bloom. The Globe spoke with Hidary to learn more about the massive installation and performance.


Q. What can someone who shows up to Mass MoCA for “Distanced Together” expect to experience?

A. The intention of the work is to provide something transformative and embracing, through sound and music. It’s inspired by the experiences we’ve all been through over the last couple of years; the piece was written during the pandemic. Many people will be coming to the museum from a decent distance, and there’s almost a pilgrimage aspect to it: putting in the effort and time to go somewhere. I’m hoping that effort is rewarded by the experience they have. Especially during winter, you’re dealing with the elements getting up there. The pilgrimage aspect is why, when I thought about when to premiere this piece, Mass MoCA was actually at the top of my list. Even though it wasn’t the most convenient place, it was the right place.

Q. Why was it your top choice?

A. Their dedication and commitment to performance and art. They balance those beautifully. There’s a performance element, but also an artistic element in terms of the sound installation and the way it’s presented. The room is a massive, cavernous, 10,000-square-foot hall with 30-foot ceilings; it’s just vast. And then if they come through the sound installation they’ll find the 60 speakers oriented in a circle, with cushions that invite them in, and ways in and out of the circle. So they’re invited to a space that they’re able to make their own. I invite them to walk through the sound installation, to lie down, to sit down. Whatever they’re feeling moved to do. That’s true for the live performance as well, which premieres on Friday. Each instrument is playing something unique the whole time; there’s 60 unique lines of music in this piece. So the idea is that in the same way we all went through the pandemic together, we also went through it individually with our own story and perspective.


Q. Was it always intended for so many musicians?

A. I really wanted to capture the sense of time dilation that I experienced during the pandemic, and I’m sure many people did. Sometimes it was like, what day is it? What time is it? So orienting this as a timepiece, as a clock, was the initial inspiration. 60 musicians struck me as the right number because there are 60 seconds in a minute, and minutes in an hour. So I went with that and then broke up the groups into 12 quintets, and that’s how they’re oriented. All of it is a kind of metaphorical timepiece.

Q. Being that the performance space is so large, how did you work with the factor of sound delay? In a space so large, not everyone can always be playing in unison with one another.

A. Having a natural reverb kind of really works well with this music. But when you’re in this circle — now the speakers are live and playing every hour, I’ve gotten to be in that space many times — because of the orientation and how they’re facing each other, you end up not getting that effect. It’s such an intimate sound and big sound at the same time. You really feel this incredible embrace.


Q. Was the piece created out of missing being able to do live events and share them with people?

A. I never had the time to sink my teeth into larger works because they just take such an amount of dedicated, consistent time each day to put together. I took full advantage of this kind of limbo we all found ourselves in. I still remember the beginning when people actually said, “This will be over in two or three weeks.” Then it wasn’t, and I spent every day working on these larger-scale pieces. I got to complete another hour-long symphonic work, and I’m halfway through my first opera, which I’ve been wanting to write for the past decade. It really gave me open-ended time in one place, which is really necessary for putting something like this together.

Interview has been condensed and edited.


Hunter Center, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams. Live performances: Jan. 28, 2:30 and 4:30 p.m., museum free admission day. Installation on display till Feb. 4.

This story has been updated to clarify the live performances that are open to the general public.


A.Z. Madonna can be reached at Follow her @knitandlisten.