Dragging a Grand Piano Through Rural Oregon with Pink Martini’s Hunter Noack – Blogtown

Hunter Noack plays piano in Big Sky Montana Arthur Hitchcock

When he answers the phone for an interview with the Mercury, Hunter Noack moves items from a storage unit to a flatbed trailer. His traveling concert series In A Landscape, which features outdoor classical music performances, is back on the road.

” We’re going [Dayton] do a few gigs in vineyards,” says Noack. “Or actually, it’s not really vineyard gigs. We bring the music to the winery.

The distinction is small but important: a “cellar concert” implies that the cellar regularly hosts live music, probably reserves space for performances and perhaps even has a microphone, amplifiers and other equipment. With In A Landscape, Noack, classical pianist and member of the Portland-based big band Pink Martini, offers a complete experience of live classical music in scenic, often remote locations that would otherwise never host a concert.

Over the next two months, he will truck a 9-foot 1912 Steinway & Sons grand piano to resorts, ranches, national monuments and other natural areas. Noack will play at locations as close as Kelly Point Park in Portland and as far away as Huntsville. Monastery in Utah.

“It’s my dream job because it brings together the two things I love the most: playing the piano and spending time outdoors,” Noack said. “I feel like the luckiest person I know.”

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A concert in a landscape at Mount Bachelor Arthur Hitchcock

Noack founded In A Landscape in 2016, buoyed by unique and immersive performances he had staged earlier in the 2010s and inspired by the Federal Works Progress Administration’s music and theater projects, which brought concerts and free and subsidized plays to rural communities during the Great Depression. At the time, Noack was returning to Oregon from stints in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London, and he was eager to soak up the natural beauty of his home country.

“Coming to Oregon was like coming home,” he said. “I grew up hunting and fishing and spending a lot of time outdoors, so when I came back I was like, ‘What I really love is hiking, camping, and backpacking. . I wanted to find a way to be outdoors as much as possible.

With the support of his mother, Lori, his partner – Pink Martini frontman Thomas Lauderdale – and others, Noack launched In A Landscape and planned nine shows in the Portland area. When it went well, he got a grant to take it across the state. Since then, Noack has played over 150 gigs as part of the series.

The route took Noack and his Steinway – purchased for In A Landscape by local real estate magnate and arts supporter Jordan Schnitzer – to many remote locations in harsh conditions.

“This instrument has seen hundreds of miles of dirt roads. It has been played in minus two degrees in Big Sky, Montana, and 110 degrees in the Oregon desert,” said Noack: “It’s a remarkable instrument, and it continues to impress me with its durability.”

He stops and laughs: “It’s a tank, but it’s a beautiful and delicate tank.”

To address the acoustic challenges of certain venues, audience members are given wireless headphones, which allow them to wander around and “choose their own adventure,” Noack said. Where the traditional audience experience in a concert hall can sometimes feel claustrophobic or art-free, he said, In A Landscape aims to provide an intimate, uncluttered and interactive listening experience.

“That’s why people love these shows so much,” he said. “The music is lovely. It’s comfortable. And there is a feeling of freedom. We deliberately keep them small so people feel like they have space.

The surroundings are also an essential part of the experience, of course. Noack occurred at an elevation of 8,000 feet on Mount Bachelor near Bend, on the vast dry lake bed of the Alvord Desert in eastern Oregon, on a hill overlooking Haystack Rock on the coast of Oregon and in the middle of North Portland Park. Blocks.

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Hunter Noack performing at the Tetherow Resort in Bend, OR Arthur Hitchcock

The most rural and remote locations tend to be the most meaningful to the pianist. He explained that he loved many aspects of In A Landscape – the travels, the scenery, the experience – but his favorite part might be the people.

“The music is amazing, but it’s really the combination of these amazing places, the people who live there and the pride they have in their communities,” Noack said. “They might like classical music, but they might not have a lot of it where they live and they’re so grateful to have a gig that’s less than a three-hour drive from Portland or Boise. . And then there’s the third of our audience who’s never been to a classical music concert before, and we’re able to bring that experience to them. It’s exciting and rewarding.

In A Landscape has expanded beyond Oregon over the years, and its board recently developed a strategic plan for the future. But Noack isn’t thinking big—he’s focusing on the present, what makes him happy and what makes his audience happy.

“He doesn’t need to grow anymore for me to be satisfied,” he said. “There’s a tendency – almost pressure – to think about traveling this across the country, but I have to control myself because I don’t want it to turn into an office job where I manage other artists. . I love doing exactly what we do for half the year, which is driving the truck and making music for people in beautiful places.


Hunter Noack’s In A Landscape concert series will hold three shows in Portland in August, one at Kelly Point Park and two at the Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial. The series continues throughout Oregon and surrounding states, through October, locations and ticket prices vary.

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