As part of the ”In a Landscape” Classical Music in the Wild concert series, Pianist Hunter Noack on Aug. 15 stopped into Dorena – nine-foot Steinway grand piano – in tow, to create a soothing, melodic experience for guests.
DORENA – There’s no shortage of gold in Oregon’s lush rolling hills, its vibrant, cascading waterways and breathtaking rock formations.
Gold, as in, golden tales about the state’s rich history, its characters, its beauty, its storied traditions and culture. A sellout crowd of more than 200 fans were on hand to soak in some of those golden nuggets Thursday, Aug. 15, at Baker Bay Park in Dorena for a 2019 ”In a Landscape” Classical Music in the Wild concert series stop.
As Hunter Noack began playing his nine-foot Steinway grand piano, it quickly became apparent that he wasn’t there just to tickle the ivories; he was there to educate, to inspire, to make ”In a Landscape” an extrasensory experience.
”This area right here around Dorena has always had special meaning to me because Opal Whiteley grew up around here and Cottage Grove. She might have been my favorite writer of all time,” said Noack, who grew up in Sunriver and now lives in Portland.
”I think she was one of the original flower children. … A brilliant young writer, very inspiring. Nobody could believe that somebody so young could write like that.”
Whiteley, who died in 1992 in a mental institution in England at age 94, was largely known for many of her quotes; her childhood diary, originally published in 1902 and republished in 1995 with a biography by Benjamin Hoff, was titled ”The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow.”
Here’s the quote in its entirety: ”Between the ranch-house and the house we live in is the singing creek where the willows grow. We have conversations. And there I do dabble my toes beside the willows. I feel the feels of gladness they do feel.”
Another jewel from Opal: ”Potatoes are very interesting folks. I think they must see a lot of what is going on in this earth – they have so many eyes.”
Whether he was playing Beethoven or a song from a lesser-known classical artist, Noack usually had some kind of interesting anecdote to set it up. Before a Franz Liszt number, Noack explained that Liszt was so adored by fans that they would throw articles of clothing at the stage in homage.
Then, in jest, Noack told the crowd to feel free to do the same.
It was that kind of atmosphere, one that Noack, 30, said he much prefers over concert halls.
”When you’re playing concert halls, it’s all scripted night after night and everyone is very serious,” said the former child prodigy, who started playing piano at age 4 and holds degrees from Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, the University of Southern California and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
”With this tour, I get to play night after night and enjoy it. I can have fun with the crowd. It relieves the pressure, because I don’t have to play everything perfectly,” he said.
To us mere mortals who don’t have a deep understanding of classical music, if there were any imperfections, they certainly weren’t noticeable through the wireless headphones we were given to provide a crisp, clear sound in the outdoor air.
Now in its fourth year, the ”In a Landscape” tour just wrapped up a busy week with five consecutive performance days, finishing Aug. 18 in Tillamook. The week started Aug. 14, with a visit to the legendary Kesey Farm. The Merry Pranksters bus was seen being driven off the property a few hours before showtime. This is the Pranksters’ bus No. 2; the original bus made its last journey in 1969 to Woodstock.
Tour site manager Daniel Peter Considine said before Thursday’s concert that he was looking forward to the next day’s event in Gaston because it was taking place at a lumber mill.
”Logging is a big part of our state’s culture, but it’s also the part of the state that gets an ugly face,” Considine said, referring to the fact that some industry-harvesting practices don’t sit well with Oregon environmentalists.
”What we do with this project is context: perhaps change the way people look at things … or, at the very least, offer them a new perspective to think about.”
About midway through the show, Noack served up some Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues. It offered a stark reminder of how ”In a Landscape” was inspired during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Music Project, which hosted thousands of free concerts during those troubled times in the 1930s.
Many of these show tickets are free, as Noack wants Oregonians to be able to afford to see quality classical music. After only a handful of concerts in its first year, the tour grew to 14 events in Year 2, then 22 last year and 29 this year.
It’s picking up steam now. And Noack, who has always been an avid outdoorsman, is glad to be along for the ride.
”The openness of classical music, it has an ambiguity that works well with nature,” Noack mused before the show. ”Little things happen, like birds will fly in and it all fits with the music.
”It’s fun for me to witness the ever-changing environment. We’re all feeling the same winds and hearing the same waves.”
The name ”In a Landscape” was a 1948 piano composition written by John Cage.
”He challenged us to think about noise as music,” Noack said, ”to embrace all the sounds, not push them away. I think that’s very important.”
Noack said he’s been influenced by a long list of artists, but Leonard Bernstein sticks out because he not only was a superb composer, conductor and pianist, he was a tremendous humanitarian, too.
”The way he would speak about children and bring people together,” Noack said of Bernstein, who died in 1990 at age 72. ”He helped more people realize their dreams through his work.”
Watch out, or you’ll find yourself drifting off into a dreamlike state during the ”In a Landscape” performance. The music is mesmerizing.
One could hear quite an array of complimentary adjectives on the way out:
Everyone was in agreement – which was pretty amazing, since most of the people who attend these shows are not classical fans, according to Noack, who says it’s exciting to attract such a wide variety of curious people.
No matter what kind of music you like, ”In a Landscape” is worth catching whenever you get the chance.
It’s as good as gold.