In late April, a few hundred people gathered in Northrop's grand old theater for a concert on its storied old organ.

Then composer Sarah Davachi took the stage and played something entirely new.

With slow, precise movements, as the lights gradually shifted from pink to purple to blue, Davachi assembled notes within notes, tones within tones.

Northrop, on the University of Minnesota campus, is known for its restored organ, a one-of-a-kind Aeolian-Skinner instrument, built in the 1930s. But it is rarely played like this. The hourlong concert was the first of a new partnership with Liquid Music, a series founded, curated and produced by Kate Nordstrum, and it contained many of her hallmarks: A buzzy composer. An eerie, experimental work. A new take on an old thing.

"I love these assignments where you think about context," Nordstrum said. "OK, I'm partnering with this institution that has a historic organ at the ready. How can Liquid Music move into this space and fully engage with it?"

For its first seven seasons, starting in 2012, Liquid Music was the chic younger sister of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Nordstrum became known for orchestrating musical meet-cutes, pairing the Minneapolis synth-pop band Poliça with Berlin-based classical outfit Stargaze, for example, and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon with contemporary dance troupe TU Dance. But in 2019, the SPCO announced that it was cutting loose the new music series, citing a steep drop in corporate funding. Since then, Liquid Music has hopped from venue to venue, not only in the Twin Cities but in New York City, Los Angeles.

Nordstrum will keep booking those shows; the Northrop series isn't exclusive. But now, at last, her series has a new home.

Each year, for at least three years, Liquid Music will put on three to four shows at Northrop, leaning into the performing arts venue's specialties — organ and dance. For Liquid Music, the partnership offers consistency and community. For Northrop, it offers new audiences and fresh takes.

'Wide-open, blue-sky space'

Just before Davachi stepped onto the Northrop stage last month, Northrop's Kristen Brogdon polled the audience: "How many of you are here for the first time — or the first time in the last 10 years?" Dozens of people raised their hands.

As director of programming, Brogdon knows well the regulars. But at this organ concert, unlike other organ concerts, "for the most part, it was completely new faces for me."

When Brogdon started at Northrop in 2019, moving to the Twin Cities from North Carolina, people kept asking whether she'd met Kate Nordstrum. Turns out they share a curiosity about new work and a passion for dance. ("My first love," as Nordstrum put it.) Over time, the two began discussing what it might mean for Liquid Music to make a home at Northrop.

Liquid Music is "strongest as a series," Nordstrum said. "We want an audience that is eager to explore with us ... coming on board for the full ride and not just choosing the artist whose name they already know.

"It's really about the adventure."

This year's series spotlights Northrop's historic Aeolian-Skinner Opus 892 pipe organ. In October, keyboardist Kit Downes, known for his pipe organ compositions, will premiere a work called "Southern Bodies" on the grand instrument. Another Nordstrum-instigated project, Sun Dogs, will circle back in a new form, including a Northrop-commissioned prelude for organ and electronics.

The series continues a partnership that Liquid Music nurtured in 2019 between musician Mike Hadreas, better known as Perfume Genius, and Los Angeles-based choreographer Kate Wallich. The project affected Hadreas "in ways that I'm still sorting through," he told the New York Times in 2020.

"I loved that project," Nordstrum said. "The artists grew so much. We all learned so much, to the extent that we felt this is something that needs to keep growing."

Hadreas and Wallich have reunited for a 10-day residency this month at Northrop, time that culminates in an open rehearsal for series subscribers Wednesday.

"It's kind of a wide open, blue-sky space," Brogdon said, "for them to start to envision their second collaboration together."

'I want it to live here'

After 70 minutes of droning, dazzling music, Davachi inched her hands off the organ and onto the bench. In his seat, Nate Thatcher lifted his head from his hands just as slowly.

After the applause, he turned to his friend beside him.

"If you had told me that was 10 minutes, I would have believed you," said Thatcher, a composer, to his friend and collaborator, Paolo Debuque, a conductor and singer.

Debuque nodded.

"We're accustomed to more events happening," Debuque said, "and when you take away events, or you space them out further, our sense of the passage of time changes. Like, we have nothing to hold onto."

Thatcher had heard about Liquid Music long before living here. When he moved to Minnesota six years ago, after completing his graduate degree at the University of Michigan, the series was one draw — "yet another reason to come." He regularly attended concerts when it was part of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

"I was really sad when the SPCO pulled it and have been following as it found a life across the country," Thatcher said. "And I'm so happy that can happen.

"But I really want it to live here, to bring people here. And if it can be Northrop, great."