Hunter Noack understands not wanting to sit still during a classical music concert. “When I was a kid and I would go to classical concerts, I loved to draw, or sometimes I would write,” he says. “It felt like I wasn’t supposed to be doing those things in a concert hall, so I had a bunch of frustrations as a listener.”
Seeking freedom from frustration, Noack decided that the solution was to stick a Steinway on a trailer and hit the road. Since the start of his outdoor concert series In a Landscape in 2016, he has performed across the Pacific Northwest, braving heat, rain and brutal cold to bring classical music to expansive environments that evoke his outdoorsy childhood in Sunriver.
“You see a cloud and it’s beautiful,” Noack says. “There are a bunch of things that are happening with the light and the color that make you think, ‘That’s beautiful.’ It’s sort of infinitely complex and simple at the same time, and I think there is a parallel with classical music.”
Noack studied at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where the first seeds of In a Landscape sprouted. For a 2014 performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s string sextet “Verklärte Nacht,” he chose to invoke the composer’s inspiration—a Richard Dehmel poem about a couple walking through a moonlit forest—by filling the room with foliage.
“I had a black box theater and we brought in trees and we kind of transformed the space into this nighttime forest,” Noack recalls. When he returned to Oregon, he decided to further mix music and nature by bringing his performances to the state’s natural landscapes, which he calls “gazillion-dollar sets basically just waiting for music.”
While COVID-19 curtailed some of In a Landscape’s rituals—before social distancing, people were allowed to lie under the piano so they could feel its vibrations when Noack played Frederic Rzewski’s “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues”—the basic architecture of the concerts remains intact. At each location, audiences don wireless headphones, then either sit or roam while the music reverberates in their ears.
According to Noack, “Because of the way the music is experienced through the headphones, it is like a soundtrack to your own movie.” In his case, it can be a horror movie. At a concert in Big Sky, Mont., it became so cold he had to cover himself with hand warmers and wear fingerless gloves.
“I’m not usually that cocky of a person, but I felt so invincible playing [Franz Liszt’s ‘La Campanella’] in zero degrees that it was just fun,” Noack remembers. “And I was so full of joy to be able to not just share the music, but share the feat of doing that thing that seems unreasonable and unlikely and impractical.”
In a Landscape, which will journey from Wallowa Lake State Park to Fox Creek Ranch in Idaho this year, is not a one-pianist operation. Noack works with guest artists (including Thomas Lauderdale, his partner), and the concerts are masterminded by a team that includes executive director Lori Noack, who is Noack’s mother.
“There’s a great misperception that I am doing this to lift up my son and show the world how proud I am of him,” says Lori Noack, also former executive director of the Sunriver Music Festival. “He could be in many places around the world doing what he does. He has chosen Oregon and chosen to work with me and with our team and to have a family operation.”
In a Landscape attempts to democratize an art form that can seem stuffy and inaccessible (free and reduced-price tickets are available). That’s why it isn’t surprising when Noack says that his most passionately received performances are at county parks and other modest locations.
“They were at places where people were just comfortable, like a town square or just next to a creek in a little park,” he says. “Whether you live in the city and you’re wealthy or whether you live in the city and you’re broke or whether you live seven hours from the nearest town, I get equally excited by the idea of everybody getting to experience classical music in the wild.”
SEE IT: In a Landscape’s sixth season begins June 17 at Summer Lake and ends Sept. 11 at Victor, Idaho. Additional dates, venues and ticket prices can be found at inalandscape.org.