Hunter Noack has always been fascinated with the different ways people approach and interact with the natural world. He also loves to make music, but since his primary instrument is the acoustic piano, he struggled for years to think of a way to bring his music with him into natural settings.
"He was lamenting how his friends with smaller instruments could take them out to places. Hunter is an avid outdoors person and likes to spend time in nature as much as possible," Hunter's mother, Lori Noack, told the Source Weekly.
"I was playing classical music in London and remembering how much I loved the outdoors," Hunter Noack says. "I thought, what if I could bring a piano to those places?" He had heard about an opera program in Los Angeles called Invisible Cities, where the performers handed out headsets so people could listen as they walked around Union Station. "That's where I got the idea for remote headphones."
After growing up in Sunriver, finishing graduate school in London and returning to the U.S. in 2016, Noack won a grant from Portland's Regional Arts and Culture Council to do outdoor concerts at three WPA sites in the Portland area. The dream had been realized – In A Landscape was a go. The next challenge was to design a system for transporting and staging the instrument. "Our setup is small, basically just a truck and a trailer," he explains. "We practice a 'leave no trace' policy and take that pretty seriously."
The program has since blossomed into a full-time occupation for both Hunter Noack and his mom, whose career as an arts development strategist equipped her to take on her current role as executive director of the In A Landscape program. The initial grant for three concerts in 2016 grew to nine, and this year, Noack will perform a total of 40 concerts across six Western states, funded by a combination of grants, sponsorships, individual donations and ticket sales.
An Oregon Community Foundation Creative Heights grant that Noack received in 2017 was pivotal to the program's success, Lori Noack is quick to point out.
"We had written a CH grant application for Hunter," she explains. "He won that grant as an individual artist and put the whole thing towards getting IAL out that second year. It really set the stage for everything we have done since then. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Creative Heights program."
In A Landscape concerts take place in a variety of natural settings. "It's important to me that we're in a diverse set of landscapes," Hunter Noack said. "We work with private landowners (as well as) all of our public lands agencies, from city to state and national parks. I want to raise awareness about our public and private lands and how they're managed. That's where partnerships with resorts, lumber companies and private ranches comes in. We're celebrating not only the lands but also the different communities that care for them."
Each IAL concert is a unique experience. The idea of placing a 9-foot grand piano in a remote wilderness area is alone a unique concept, but the experience for audiences is exceptional in other ways, as well. With the wireless headsets, Hunter Noack says, "people can sit right in front of the piano and have it be most like a typical piano recital, or they can bring a picnic (at most locations), or spend the entire concert dancing or climbing trees." Another unique aspect of the outdoor experience is the effect of sounds and other sensations that would be perceived much differently in an indoor setting.
"Sometimes you're at a quiet concert and you move in your seat and it squeaks," he explains, "and that affects other people's experience in a negative way. At these concerts it's not like that. You might hear a helicopter or a dog barking or children squealing. I encourage people to think of all that as part of the music of the concert. It's a consequence of being in the wild. For me it's a happy one, because to embrace all of those sensations, with the wind and the sun and the scents, it feels freeing."
"One of the things I'm grateful for is that people take a chance on this show," Lori Noack adds. From her experience managing classical music festivals, Lori Noack knew some of the barriers people had to attending a classical music concert – the cost, the discomfort of sitting still for long periods – so they tried to remove as many of those barriers as possible, offering free tickets and employing the wireless headsets. "You can't know (if you're going to like it) if you have all those barriers built in," Lori Noack said.
"Here, your neighbors can take off their headphones to have a conversation, or pass the chips, and that doesn't bother anyone," Hunter Noack added. The artist also insisted on using a "real" concert grand, a 9-foot Steinway Model D, to give first-time classical music audiences the benefit of the best possible sound. "Then let them decide if they like classical piano."
Noack says he chooses a variety of music styles for each concert, from the Baroque era to new music and everything in between. "I think people are craving this kind of healing event," he says. "There's something about being in a community of people, everybody having their own experience, yet all being together. I think the project is hitting a chord. It's resonating with people.
"What I hope is that we meet in this place of awe together, witnessing the magic that is nature. If it's a very wild space or a more tame, human-impacted landscape, because it's outside, there is an endless and infinite magic."
* Note: the upcoming Tetherow event in Bend is sold out. Find more concert dates on the website.