James Greeley

Loving the chaos

Portland pianist Hunter Noack’s annual traveling summer series In A Landscape brings classical music to Oregon’s wild places, helps bridge urban-rural divide

Hunter Noack grew up in Sunriver cherishing both classical music and outdoor Oregon. His mother, Lori Noack, directed the Sunriver Music Festival, which each year included top American classical pianists. “Growing up in central Oregon, I spent all my time outside when I wasn’t practicing,” Noack remembered. 

For the past few years, Noack, now 30, has found a unique way to combine his twin passions. Beginning last month and extending through September, Noack will be bringing a 9-foot Steinway piano and 300 pairs of wireless headphones to some of Oregon’s most beautiful outdoor spaces. While audience members gaze out onto scenic vistas, they’ll hear him performing live piano music by Romantic composers like Liszt, impressionists such as Ravel and modernists including John Cage, whose placid 1948 composition In a Landscape gave the series its name. 

From his Sunriver childhood, Noack followed a prodigy’s path: Michigan’s famed Interlochen Arts Academy for high school, then music conservatories in San Francisco and London. In 2013, a mutual friend introduced him to Portland pianist Thomas Lauderdale after a concert there by his band Pink Martini. They became friends and then partners, which brought Noack back to Oregon to live with him. Since then, Noack has performed in various settings, including shows with Oregon Ballet Theatre and Northwest Dance Project. Read my ArtsWatch feature on Noack and IaL’s origins.

Hunter Noack at Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Photo by Bridget Baker.
Hunter Noack at Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Photo by Bridget Baker.

Another World

But his passion project has been In a Landscape. The wireless headphones (funded by a grant from Portland philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer) allowed him to re-create a concert hall sound (for “persnickety classical music fans”), unimpeded by ambient noise such as wind, bawling babies and arid open-air acoustics. And it permitted listeners to enjoy classical music amid natural beauty, rather than confined inside a formal concert hall.

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