To Hunter Noack, a small state park or private farm can offer just as much grandeur as a concert hall, if not more.
The young Portland musician — a classical pianist raised in Central Oregon — brings the state’s majestic outdoor spaces to life each year with his award-winning “In a Landscape” series of concerts. With help from a dedicated crew, he sets up a 9-foot Steinway grand piano and performs for concert goers who either gather around or listen with headphones as they explore the “venue” on their own.
“I find the more modest landscapes are as magical and beautiful as Oregon’s more famous, epic landscapes,” says Noack, who happens to keep great musical company, with his partner being Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale. “A favorite picnic spot in a state park or the secret campground in the backwoods gives a feeling of intimacy, especially if those in the audience have a history with the landscape.”
Now in its fourth year, the nonprofit “In a Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild” kicks off in June and runs through late September, with tickets priced on a sliding scale. (Shows are free for locals at most rural locations, though registration is required to reserve the limited number of headphones.) We caught up with Noack to ask a few questions about his influences, intentions and highlights for the upcoming season.
Q: I’ve heard that you grew up hunting, fishing and backpacking in Central Oregon. What are some of your favorite outdoor memories (and places) that you explored when you were younger?
My memories are full of outdoor scenes: Camping off the grid for weeks every summer near McKenzie Bridge, Father’s Day fishing trips with my dad and his friends on the North Fork of the Coquille River near Powers, fall weekends along the Chewaucan River, endless hours building forts in the woods with scraps of lumber, getting home from school in time to take kayaks on the Deschutes River for a couple hours before dinner… when not practicing piano we were always on an adventure of some kind. My sister and I have always been hiking and running partners. We loved to race to the top of Mt. Bachelor while there was still snow on the summit so that we could slide down and grab a burger at Pine Marten Lodge by noon.
Q: What are some spots in Oregon where you haven’t yet played, but would love to?
There are a few dream locations I have in mind. I’m hopeful these can happen in the near future:
- Sparks Lake. Put the piano on a floating platform and have it towed lazily around by a team of kayakers. The audience would get headphones and could cruise around in their own canoes, kayaks and paddleboards or listen from the shore.
- Todd Lake. For this winter-time concert, the piano would be sleighed in with a Sno-Cat and the audience would snowshoe to the concert.
- I am eager to explore the South Coast and the hidden wild gems of Josephine, Curry, Jackson and Klamath counties.
- I would love to perform on a barge at Rooster Rock State Park.
- Helicopter a piano to Table Rock near Medford.
Q: I love that you choose your locations carefully, considering a balance of public/private ownership and a diversity of landowners. Tell me more about your goal to cultivate an appreciation of the land and bring people together through their connection to the land.
So many of the conversations I have with fellow Oregonians are ones where we talk about what we have in common, our love for the state, the natural resources. Most people here are moderate, polite, understanding and compassionate. I think having a space where people get together you realize that most of us have more in common than we think.
Q: You have some incredible locations in your 2019 lineup. Can you highlight a few?
I am especially excited to work with Wanderlust Tours to build out the experience for a limited group at Summer Lake (July 20-21, 2019) with farm-to-table food, guided hikes and camping in one of the most epic landscapes in Oregon. In another partnership, Wanderlust has created a Mt. Bachelor pre-concert day trip (July 21, 2019) in Central Oregon, kayaking the Cascade Lakes then joining everyone to ride the chairlift up to 7,000 feet for a concert and dinner above the treeline on Mt. Bachelor.
The concert at the historic Sumpter Dredge (July 26, 2019) is one of my favorites because we ride a steam-engine train to the concert. The small gold-rush town of Sumpter has two hotels and two bars and restaurants. In 2018, Stelth Ulvang from the Lumineers strolled up and down the train cars playing accordion and singing on the way to the concert and May Arden led a sing-a-long under the stars on the train ride back — we’ll do something like that again, definitely the dark skies sing-a-long. The historic dredge itself is a wonderful and terrible piece of machinery. During the concert, you can explore the 3,000-square-foot monster that eats up the earth and leaves gravel pilings in its wake.
The Ken Kesey Farm event (Aug. 14, 2019) in Pleasant Hill, near Eugene, will also be a very special occasion. A couple years ago Ken’s granddaughter moved to Oregon from New York City and started a writing residency program. The stories and the barn are incredible. The place looks like Ken [a Springfield native] just walked out one day and locked up. The publishers’ copies of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” [filmed in Salem, the 1975 adaptation of Kesey’s book] were in cardboard boxes behind Ken’s writing desk. Ken’s family is inspired and so lovely. This event is a fundraiser for both “In a Landscape” and the Kesey Farm Project.
Q: What have you learned from your tours across Oregon these past few years?
I have always understood the power the wilderness has on my mental and emotional well-being, and over the past few years my interest in learning about natural resource management in Oregon has grown. In traveling the state, talking with ranchers, farmers, mill workers, loggers and conservationists, my own opinions have changed. By focusing on an appreciation of the land, this series appeals to just about everyone.