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Sunday, November 22, 2020

Renowned pianist Hunter Noack performs at Cottonwood Canyon State Park

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In A Landscape: Music In The Wild

Hunter Noack could be playing at any concert hall in any city of his choosing. He is essentially a perfectly groomed piano player who began playing at a young age and attended some of the most elite schools in the world.

At 14, Noack enrolled at the Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school in Michigan. In 2007, he graduated from the illustrious San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He then went to the University of Southern California where he received his bachelor’s degree and then to London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama for his master’s.

Noack collaborated with various celebrated artists and was immersed in the London art scene. He traveled the world and worked with filmmakers, theatre directors and other well-known musicians.

But in 2017 he traded big buildings and ornate concert venues for nature’s cathedral and started the nonprofit In A Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild.

Carting a nine-foot Steinway grand piano that he got from the Schnitzer Family Foundation on a flatbed trailer; Noack has performed in some of the most beautiful and remote places in Oregon.

Inspired by the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) Federal Music Project that was created by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during the Great Depression, Noack offers free concerts for people who live in the areas where he performs. Funding to make In A Landscape possible is provided through donations, grants and by the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association and the Juniper Arts Council.

Typically, In A Landscape is booked for the summer with set dates at different locations. However, due to COVID-19, Noack cancelled all bookings this year.

So, it came as a shock when the phone rang at The Times-Journal on the afternoon of Wednesday the 23rd and Hunter’s mother Lori Noack was on the other end. Lori said that Hunter had essentially been driving around Oregon doing impromptu pop-up shows. She asked that no promotion be done but wanted to inform us that Hunter was at Cottonwood State Park and that he would be performing at 5pm.

Last year, I had the opportunity to see In A Landscape at the Alvord Desert. There, on the Playa, concert “goers” turned into “participants” and were given wireless headphones. In the back of a pickup was a large antenna and as Noack breezed through works by Chopin and contemporary masters, participants roamed around the Playa, flew kites and took in the natural beauty of the Steens Mountains.

At Cottonwood State Park, guests were distanced, and no wireless headphones were given out. But the performance was nonetheless incredible.

Noack explains the origins of In A Landscape with attendees. The inspiration came from the Works Projects Administration (WPA) Federal Music Program that brought the arts to the countryside during the Great Depression. (Kenzie LaRue)

Approximately 40 people were in attendance, including several people from Condon. Noack engaged the crowd and shared how he had started In A Landscape. He drew a hardy round of applause when he said that if federal funding for music and the arts was possible during the Depression, it is possible now.

As he performed and spoke to the crowd, people warmed to the music and the experience. Noack’s desire to bring classical music to people in nature flips the classical concert performance experience on its head. There is nothing fancy or classist about it.

Many in attendance obviously do not regularly listen to classical music. Propped in front of the Murtha Cow Barn, which provided an extra boost for acoustics, Noack played barefoot and coped with the windy conditions.

Midway through his third number, a man and a boy looked at each other, grabbed their fishing poles and headed for the John Day River. It perfectly encapsulated the experience.

As Noack finished his final number, he thanked the crowd for coming and invited them to come visit his camping spot at Cottonwood. “I’m in number 13,” he said.

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