Hunter Noack in Astoria Oregon

Hunter Noack & In a Landscape

In Art, Civic by Caitlin Pihl

If you have not heard of Hunter Noack, internationally acclaimed concert pianist, preform, please find your nearest historical landmark in Oregon and wait for him.

Hunter Noack performs on a nine-foot Steinway grand piano at 13 spectacular landscapes across Oregon and Southern Washington, from Astoria Column to the Alvord Desert, from Crater Lake to Baker City and Pendleton. Wireless headphones, available on a first-come, first-served basis, give concertgoers freedom to watch the musicians, or wander through secret glens, lie in sunny meadows and roam old growth forests.

Click for a list of upcoming shows

In what way do you think Jordan Schnitzer’s involvement with In a Landscape has helped develop the program?

Last year was the inaugural season and I had dinner with Jordan two weeks before the show started. I really wanted to have wireless headphones and try out the silent disco technology for the first 9 shows and things had fallen through with Sennheiser, the equipment they sent wasn’t great and it was not working. It was a casual dinner and Jordan just asked how he could help. And basically, then and there, he committed to buying 100 wireless headphones and all the sound equipment needed to make this happen.

I was kind of hesitant about it, nobody had really done the silent disco thing with classical music, with one exception being in Los Angeles, at a show done by The Industry called Invisible Cities where they partnered with Sennheiser. But this was a much more mobile set up and I wasn’t really sure if it was going to work. Having the technology is part of what made the project stand out, of course bringing a nine foot Steinway to spectacular or historical sites in Oregon is a feat itself, but the technology really made this a 21st century project and would not have happened without Jordan.

I attribute a huge portion of the success of last year’s shows to having the head phones, so this year, in applying for a grant from Oregon Community Foundation to present the concerts all over Oregon, Jordan again asked right after the shows ended last year, how can we make this bigger? He open-endedly asked me what I needed. And that kind of encouragement, that kind of open ended question was more of a challenge to me, what’s the biggest thing I can do with this and not just with “In a Landscape” but with my journey as an artist. What he is really asking me to do is think of a one year-plan, five-year plan and ten-year plan. He isn’t going to write a blank check but his questions helped guide the project into its most successful next permutation.

Since we had the sound equipment from last year, what I really wanted was my own piano on my own trailer. To take places Steinway wouldn’t bring a piano….

To have my own piano without needing it setup by professional movers means I can go to more places and take more risks. I can drive to a mountaintop on a dirt road. The options are endless. I couldn’t borrow a 9 foot Steinway because no one in their right mind would donate it to this project. And it was nowhere in the budget to buy one. But I really wanted a 9 foot American Steinway. So Jordan told me to go look for one. I spent a few months scouring eBay and Craigslist, all over the country looking for a really great piano that didn’t break the bank. It had to be 9 feet. It had to be the American model D. But I wanted something that wouldn’t be too shiny. I found this one actually here in Portland.

I went to try it out, I brought Thomas to try it out, I brought a few technicians.

I texted Jordan a picture and he said let’s do it. So, it is his piano, but he is letting me take it to all of these places in OR and WA on the back of a pick-up truck, which is awesome.

How did you come up with the concept of In a Landscape? 

It is a marriage of the two things I love most, being outdoors and playing classical music. This project came from me figuring out how to do both of those things at the same time. It is one thing to play a piano outside but it is another thing to figure out how to make a piano sound good outside. That is why the technology is so important. Because it is a little bit more work to set up the microphone and have a sound engineer and to create CD quality audio in an uncontrollable environment with wind and the sun, the tuning is constantly fluctuating.

How long did it take between conceptualization and execution? 

My first thought about it was actually 3 years ago when I was living in London and I was working on a project where we turned a theatre into a night time forest. We brought in 50 trees to create this forest. I remember one night I was up late and my mom and step-father, they were visiting, and she said wouldn’t it be cool if you could take a piano around on a semi-truck and take it where ever you wanted? That is what started the seed. It was a year later I received a grant from Regional Arts and Culture Council. It was a relatively small grant but substantial enough to take on the risk of doing it. One year later with a larger grant we are now covering the whole state. And as far as the future there are three directions it will go – starting off a month long residency in Haleakalā National Park in Maui through National Park Art Foundation, which I hope leads to other partnerships with national parks. I think it is important to bring music to communities that don’t have easy access to live classical music, towns with less than 10,000 in Oregon. I want to continue to do that, with more experimental weekends, with adventure art.

What influence in the community do you hope to see In a Landscape have longterm? 

In an ideal scenario, this brings together two different groups of people. People who have an established relationship and love for classical music and brings them to places they wouldn’t normally visit. And the other group is those who call the landscape their own. “In a Landscape” brings these people together not to focus on the performance but the music provides space for people to appreciate a landscape.

Do you see yourself doing this every year? Or will it evolve? 

It will continue to happen in Oregon and it will evolve. This past winter we activated a site as part of Desert X in the Coachella Valley and I really like the idea of activating public art and landscape art. This current tour, two of the sites are also at public art installations, the Astoria Column and Maya Lin’s listening circle part of Confluence Project. There is a direction to include artwork.

Would you want to see artists engage the communities they are in? 

Where ever possible I collaborate with people in the area, at Fort Rock I am bringing in a young man who lives in Burns. In Sisters we are bringing in a violinist from Bend. In Alvord Desert, Miss America will be there, she is from Klamath Falls. At all the sites, there is at least one guest with an Oregon connection.

You are giving back to the community and Oregon, how could you compare what you are doing to what Jordan Schnitzer does within the community?

Jordan is one of the few people in Oregon who gives, with a mentality of truly supporting both established institutions like the symphony while constantly nurturing other artists like myself, visual artists. “In a Landscape” is the same kind of effort, to bring resources of a city out to the community without access. He is constantly demonstrating how to give and how to support and that is something that if more people did, Oregon would be an entirely different place.