There are few places as remote as Fort Rock, Ore. It’s about 70 miles southeast of Bend, in a patch of empty high desert called Christmas Valley.
It’s not the kind of place where you take a 9-foot Steinway piano (just like the one at Carnegie Hall), but that’s exactly what Portlander Hunter Noack does, every year.
He actually hauls his 1,200-pound instrument on a special trailer that turns into a stage all across the state and beyond. His 250-member audiences wear headphones, and he plays pieces by Rachmaninoff, Bach, Chopin and Schumann. Many people sit through the shows, but Noack encourages the crowd to wander, look at rivers, and examine clouds and flowers while listening to his music.
Noack, 33, calls his project In a Landscape, and with it he combines two things that are close to his heart: piano music and the sublime beauty of Oregon and the West. He’s seeking to democratize classical music by getting it out of stuffy concert halls and into the wild.
“We are just so desperate for things that are beautiful these days,” Noack says. “People tell us there is power in being in these magical places with music that is meaningful to them.”
Noack was born in Newport and raised in Sunriver. His mother ran the Sunriver Music Festival, and his father, a golf pro, taught him how to hunt and fish. Noack began playing piano at age 4 and went on to study at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
The idea of setting music in nature nagged at him in London. He filled a theater there with trees, set out stumps for people to sit on, and played. Around that time, he met Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini at a party hosted by a U.S. ambassador. They crossed paths again in Paris months later, and their romance brought Noack to Portland, where he took his idea outside.
In 2016, Noack got a grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council to put on three shows in the tri-county area. Instead of three performances, he played nine in that first season. From there, In a Landscape has only grown. This year, Noack still has more than a dozen shows left on the calendar all around Oregon, with additional concerts scheduled in California, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.
If you need a dose of pure beauty in this darkening world, go see Noack play somewhere, anywhere.