There’s always been a lot to see in the wilds of Oregon. Now, thanks to a pioneering program from a pianist named Hunter Noack, there’s more to hear while exploring those beaches, mountains, deserts and plains.
Noack is the musician behind “In a Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild,” which stages classical piano performances in natural settings.
These are different from an outdoor amphitheater gig. These shows feature a 1912 Steinway grand piano on a flatbed trailer in the sort of places where you might pitch a tent. Audiences are capped at 150 and most listeners wear wireless headphones provided by the producers.
The mostly Oregon-centric series, underwritten by public and private donations, has grown from nine performances in 2016 (all within 75 miles of Portland) to 17 last year, including shows at Crater Lake and Hood River and three performances in southern Washington.
This year’s agenda includes 23 shows, beginning July 21, at the Shire, a 75-acre site at the Columbia River Gorge near Multnomah Falls, concluding with a Sept. 15 performance at Alvord Hot Springs in the desert of southeastern Oregon. The full list of shows, sites and ticket prices (free to $50) is here.
Noack, 29, born and raised in Oregon, is a U.S.C. grad who won the Los Angeles International Liszt Competition in 2011 and has collaborated on several projects in the U.S. and Britain, involving classical music in non-traditional settings.
His goal is “to bring together the two things I love most – playing classical music and being outdoors.” One inspiration came when he saw how producers used headphones for a production of the opera “Invisible Cities” at Union Station in Los Angeles, a 2013 premiere.
Besides Noack at the piano, performances often feature poets, other local performers and sometimes site-specific activities, such as planting native foliage or riding an old steam train. Most audience members wear wireless headphones, which bring them a little more into the music but leave them free to stand, sit or stroll the landscape within a radius of about 200 yards.
These are not always easy events to stage. Last summer, one was rescheduled because of rain, another because of fire. And the piano technician has to keep the instrument in tune as it endures fluctuating humidity and temperatures as low as 35, as high as 105.
“One of the nice things about using a 100-year-old piano is that it’s seen a lot of summers and winters,” Noack said. But, he said, “It’s a huge risk to take this special instrument and put it in these conditions.”
The potential payoffs are big, whether it’s delivering music people to new locations or delivering local people to new music.
“About a third of our audience had never been to a classical music performance before – a lot of ranchers and farmers,” Noack said. His favorite shows draw “the matrons from Portland and the hippies from Eugene and the ranchers from eastern Oregon, all gathering together and having this shared experience.”
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