Terrain & rhythm – Classical music pianist to perform at Silver Falls

May 2022 Posted in Arts & Music, People

By Melissa Wagoner

Hunter Noack is an award winning and incredibly accomplished classical pianist but he’s also an avid outdoorsman who spent his childhood in Sunriver hunting, fishing and kayaking with his family. The problem – the two don’t really mesh.

Pianist, Hunter Noack, performing his portable piano on a recent concert at Big Sky, Montana.

If you play the guitar, you can take it outside, Noack’s mother, Lori, said. But a piano isn’t nearly as portable – unless it’s a keyboard. “But that’s not really the same.”

At least it isn’t for Noack, who has studied music in some of the most prestigious schools in the United States and Europe. He strives to present a world class experience to his audience – no matter who or where they are.

In 2016 he hatched a plan to finally combine his two passions, bringing the world of classical piano music “into the wild” for everyone to hear. 

“In 2016 we had pianos delivered from a piano company in Portland,” Lori recalled. “We did nine sites mostly in the Portland area.”

It was a whirlwind tour, with the most memorable concert being one held inside the Oneanta Tunnel where astounded hikers stumbled upon a grand piano mid-trail.

“It’s almost the most fun when people are surprised by it,” Lori said. “It’s been a joy to see the reception in terms of bringing the quality that you’d see at a larger performance hall.”

Director of the Sunriver Music Festival for numerous years, Lori is no stranger to planning outdoor concert events. It’s one of the many reasons her son requested her help and why it didn’t take long for her to recognize Noack’s idea had long-term potential. She suggested that Noack turn his hobby into a full-fledged nonprofit. His reply: he would need his own piano. 

“He went to Jordan Schnitzer in Portland and he agreed to purchase a nine-foot Steinway,” Lori said of the contribution the well-known Portland-based developer and renowned supporter of the arts made to the project. 

“Jordan just said, ‘That’s awesome. I’m in.’”

And so the piano – built in 1912 – was purchased and retrofitted to withstand both the weather and extreme travel. Which left just one question – how to move it. 

“We had to come up with a system where Hunter and the crew could move the piano themselves,” Lori said. It was necessary not only to transport the piano down rough dirt roads but also up mountains, through the snow and into rocky fields. 

Finding nothing on the market, which fit their criteria, Noack and his father built a trailer of their own. It allows the piano to travel on its belly, legs removed, and then, once in place, to form a ready-made stage with fittings for a tent in case of rain.

“I think we’re the only people in the world that transport a piano like this,” Lori said. “It’s not going to last as long as a carefully cared for piano. And there’s always one person who grumps at us about not treating the instrument well. But we do treat it with respect and have technicians work on it. And which do you set as your higher priority – caring for the instrument ina controlled environment or sharing the music?” 

The answer, at least in Noack’s opinion, is obvious. Which is why In a Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild – as the concert series came to be named – has continued to grow by leaps and bounds.

“We’re doing 60 this year,” Lori said. It’s a record number of appearances that Noack is making in California, Idaho, Utah and all across Oregon. 

“It’s wonderful because we’ve had such a good response, especially in rural areas. It’s very hard to say no.”

One reason is, for every person Noack introduces to the wonder of classical music, there are many more who have never had the opportunity to attend a concert of this kind. 

“Oregon is chock full of amazing small towns east of the mountains and it’s fun because people get introduced to [classical music],” Lori said, explaining that, for many of these residents, the nearest concert hall is hours away, which means not only finding the time to make the long trip but budgeting for gas, a hotel and the expensive ticket as well. 

Despite the effort and expense required, In a Landscape continues to visit such out of the way places as the Alvord Desert, Cottonwood Canyon State Park and the Warm Springs Reservation, and to price his performances as affordably as possible.

“We subsidize the ticket costs,” Lori confirmed, describing the monumental fundraising efforts required to drop the ticket price from $70 to $35 per ticket, while simultaneously allowing for a number of “Good Neighbor” tickets to be offered at no cost.

“We set aside half the tickets in rural Oregon so those people can come for free,” Lori said. “And we have a standing rule that if anybody needs a free ticket we do it. We’ll have moms or dads write in and say their kids are taking music lessons and we say, just register so you’ll see all the information. It’s a huge part of what we do.”

But furthering the community’s exposure to and appreciation of classical music is by no means the only reason these concerts are important. They also encourage those who may not have otherwise ventured into the wilderness to do so – an aspect the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department recently recognized through its sponsorship of an eight state park series as part of the organization’s centennial celebration. 

“They call it the Park Explorer Series,” Lori said of the collection, which includes two performances at Silver Falls State Park on June 8 and 9. “They’re trying to get people into the parks that wouldn’t normally go or don’t have a reason to go.”

While Noack’s playing is the featured event, he wants his audience to explore the park around them as well. 

“He encourages people to walk around,” Lori said, describing the custom-made headphones, offered with each ticket purchase, that allow attendees to do this. 

“You don’t need to sit still,” she continued. “He encourages them to get up and walk around and take [the music] with them. He says, ‘Don’t watch me all the time. This landscape is fascinating.’”

It’s what makes Noack’s concerts unique.

“There is mystery and magic to classic music. There are layers,” Lori explained. “And then there is the mystery to being outdoors… it’s sort of a lucky combination that seems to work.”

In a Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild at Silver Falls State Park

Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept. Centennial Celebration.

June 8 & 9, 6 p.m.

Stone Circle near the South Falls Trailhead, Silver Falls State Park

Tickets at: www.inalandscape.org

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