Influences: Pianist (and NPR host) Christopher O’Riley

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It was probably only a matter of time before Christopher O’Riley, a classical pianist who has performed the work of Radiohead and Elliott Smith, met up with Matt Haimovitz, a cellist with a taste for Hendrix. The two, who have recently released the genre-bending duo album “Shuffle.Play.Listen,” perform at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 18.

O’Riley, host of National Public Radio’s show “From the Top,” spoke to us about his influences. “It’s most important to play what you believe in, what you feel most keenly,” he says. “There is, in immersing oneself in the work at hand, the feeling that what I’m playing or listening to right now is the most beautiful, astonishing music ever. That tends to be exclusory, so if I’m playing Shostakovich’s ‘Preludes & Fugues,’ there is no other music, and when I’m playing music I’ve been listening to for a quarter century, as I have the music of Jon Hassell, Cocteau Twins, John McLaughlin, I am immersed and engulfed in the love of the music.”


Gunther Schuller: Gunther was president of the New England Conservatory of Music, where I did my training. Readers of his gargantuan autobiography will be astonished at his hunger for musical knowledge and his passion for innumerable musical genres, covering the globe and everything from the pre-Baroque to contemporary jazz. Gunther lives by the Duke Ellington adage, “There are only two kinds of music: good music and the other kind,” putting one’s powers of perception and discernment paramount in the judgment of worth in all musics.

My colleagues: I was taught by my chamber music coach at NEC, the conductor-cellist Benjamin Zander, that the piano, in its capacity as a percussion instrument, had the capacity to elevate or execrate the performance of whatever instrument was being accompanied; a singing instrument, like a cello, requires a compatible, nurturing musical fabric on which to soar, and the piano can poke percussive holes in such a magic carpet.

Movies: I also have a lifelong attraction to film, Alfred Hitchcock having been my favorite director since childhood. Of course, music in films really makes a difference with me, and I may still have a deep-seated dream to do film music myself, following in the footsteps of my idols in the field, Bernard Herrmann and Danny Elfman. I recently had the opportunity of writing a piece of music for a CD collection of pieces to be released in February inspired by the new Kris Saknussemm novel “Reverend America.”

Women: Unabashed, I must answer a query as to why I play the piano honestly, and say it’s to impress girls. In sixth grade, when it started becoming apparent that the flashing octaves of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 was not getting me the feminine attention I began to crave, I thought to widen my horizons and start playing this music all the prettiest girls were listening to. I started my own little rock band, playing the keyboard-inspired music of my youth: the Doors, Iron Butterfly, Santana, Derek and the Dominoes, and later the jazz and fusion music of Miles Davis and John McLaughlin, even starting to write my own things. Suffice to say, I found that girls liked bad boys a lot more than they ever liked musicians.

-- Scott Timberg

Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz, Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos, (562) 467-8818, Jan. 18,