2020 Composing in the Wilderness

Led by adventurer-composer Stephen Lias, nine participants travel into the wilderness of Denali National Park accompanied by scientists and guides; gather ideas, experiences, and inspiration; and then quickly write chamber pieces that are premiered by top players at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.

Composer Sasha Avanov drinks in the inspiration on the south side of Cathedral Mountain in Denali National Park (2018)

Composer Sasha Avanov drinks in the inspiration on the south side of Cathedral Mountain in Denali National Park (2018)

Dates: July 12-26, 2020.

Cost: To be determined, but our last three years have been between $1,500 and $1,900.

Number of Participants: nine

Locations: Denali National Park, Twin Bears Camp, and Fairbanks

Wilderness Activities: Strenuous day hiking in Denali.

Roughing it: The field camp at Denali has canvas/wood frame cabins, a modern pit toilet, and propane cooking.  There is potable running cold water, but no showers. While at Twin Bears, composers are housed in rustic cabins and have access to showers, electricity, and full kitchen.

Composing: Pieces must be written in three or four days.  That's part of the adventure! Instrumentation (mostly trios and quartets) assigned at random. Pieces must be acoustic.  

Performance: Two performances by Corvus in Alaska (Denali and Fairbanks).


Participants should be prepared to live in rustic conditions and be physically fit enough for strenuous mountain hikes, stream crossings, etc. Participants must also be trained composers (professionals, university faculty members, or students currently enrolled in a university composition program) with experience preparing their own manuscripts and writing chamber music for various instruments.  This is not a "class" or "workshop" in that there is no instruction included (although we all learn from each other). Instead, it is a guided adventure trip for composers. 


 Your registration fee includes everything except:

  • Airfare to and from Fairbanks.

  • Food on travel days and while in Fairbanks.

  • Clothing and gear you’ll need on the trip. Depending on your level of preparedness, this may be less or more. To help with this, I’ve made THIS VIDEO.

  • Any optional excursion we make available.

Everything else is included. We provide all the transportation and lodging, as well as all food while in Denali and Twin Bears.

Composer David Wanner makes his way up Tattler Creek in Denali National Park (2018)

Composer David Wanner makes his way up Tattler Creek in Denali National Park (2018)


  • July 12 (Sunday) - Participants meet at the airport at 9:00 AM and are transported by van down to Denali. After lunch and a group meeting at the Murie Science and Learning Center, we'll head back to our field camp on the Teklanika River.

  • July 13-16 - Four full days of activity in the park. We'll be taking strenuous day hikes through many different terrains and ecosystems from boreal forests to alpine tundra. This part of the trip is "unplugged" (no tech devices other than cameras and audio recorders).

  • July 17 (Friday) - We'll leave camp early, and have a cafeteria breakfast with one of Denali National Park's administrators, return to Fairbanks, and then drive to Twin Bears Camp where there is electricity and showers. We stay in rustic “summer-camp” style bunk cabins but there are nice communal buildings with electricity for composing. Everyone can use their laptops.

  • July 18-20 - Three full days of focused composing time at Twin Bears Camp.

  • July 21 (Tuesday) - Depart camp and head to Fairbanks. In the afternoon, everyone will check in to the dorms at the University of Alaska. Composers will meet the performers and have first rehearsals in the evening.

  • July 22 (Wednesday) - Rehearsals all day.

  • July 23 (Thursday) - Possible rehearsals and various activities in Fairbanks, including a visit to the Museum of the North to see John Luther Adams' iconic installation "The Place Where You Go to Listen".

  • July 24 (Friday) - Travel back down to Denali. Final rehearsals all afternoon, and then evening premiere performance of all nine new pieces in the auditorium of the Denali Visitors Center.

  • July 25 (Saturday) - Second performance of composers' pieces in Fairbanks.

  • July 26 (Sunday) - Participants depart. Those who wish to extend their stay may do so at their own expense.

Members of    Corvus    performing in 2017.

Members of Corvus performing in 2017.


The Festival's new music ensemble is called Corvus and it is made up of seasoned new music experts, many of whom are from New York City. Part of the fun is that we don't tell each participant which instruments they're writing for (usually trios and quartets) until the first day. More information about Corvus on the ABOUT link above.


The best way to get a sense of this trip is to use the PREVIOUS YEARS link above and look at all the pictures.


Yes! (Bearing in mind that you are choosing to come to a wild place with wild animals and steep mountains and have an adventure.) At all stages of this trip, you'll be accompanied by guides, leaders, scientists, and National Park employees whose job is to make sure you are safe. You'll be given some instruction on how to handle bear and moose encounters, and supplied with bear spray when appropriate. You wouldn't be interested if you didn't want an adventure, right? But we'll make sure this adventure isn't your last.


Sorry! Our performances for this trip will be entirely acoustic. 

The trip will be led by adventurer-composer Stephen Lias. We provide participants with real-time GPS tracking so their family and friends can follow along online.  You're provided with experienced back-country guides, all transportation, and food during all backcountry experiences.  Participants will receive full packing lists of what gear and clothing they are responsible for, and what will be provided. 

This is appropriate for trained composers of concert and chamber music from undergraduate through professional.  This is not a "class", but a collaborative creative adventure, and we seek talented contemporary composers of all ages, in any style, and from any country.


Adventurer-Composer  Stephen Lias

Stephen Lias