Musical Transcendence Goes Wild

Photo of Hunter Noack at Smith Rock 2018 - Photo by David Lindell

Music can’t always be contained within the confines of a concert hall; sometimes it has to be unleashed into the forest, the desert, the valley, or the open field. That’s why pianist Hunter Noack, an alumnus of SFCM’s Pre-College program, founded IN A LANDSCAPE—a summer concert series that celebrates classical music performed in nature. “I feel most inspired in nature. To perform in the great out of doors is tremendously satisfying,” says Noack.

Inspired by the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) Federal Music Project during the Great Depression, IN A LANDSCAPE features Noack playing classical music on a Steinway grand piano in an array of locations, from a mountain top to a meadow, and from a thick forest to an open desert plain. Concertgoers wear wireless headphones to listen to the music while they wander and roam through the landscape.

“I travel to the most stunning landscapes each day. We spend a few hours setting up, and then I go to my greenroom—I have the greenest of greenrooms. The audience is made up of classical music fans and first timers. We smell the sagebrush or pine in the wind and watch the clouds painted by the setting sun as we experience music and nature together. Some people wander off into the distance, others lie in the grass near the piano.”

Noack grew up in Oregon and loved the outdoors from an early age. His mother ran the Sunriver Music Festival, and Noack recalls being entranced by the pianists performing in the concerts. “They were my heroes,” he says. Inspired by the musicians he met, Noack began playing piano and oboe and decided to go to summer music camps. To pay for them, he sold his paintings and collected empty cans from the nearby golf course, riding his bike four miles to collect the five-cent deposit. At age 14, he left home for the summer to study at the Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school in Northern Michigan.

In Pre-College, Noack studied with Yoshi Nagai, who had also been his teacher at Interlochen. “Yoshi was demanding but had a way of making me want to be better. He was able to articulate something technical in a way that would trigger my imagination. Suddenly a passage would turn into magic; it had a power that was beyond what I was capable of understanding.”

Noack recalls his time in the Pre-College program fondly. “What stands out to me about my experience at SFCM are the quality and dedication of the faculty. The hours of attention, thought, and guidance given in lessons and beyond. Their support was like having another family.” Even in SFCM’s urban setting, Noack was collecting experiences that would lead him to his concert series in the wild. “Yoshi would take us to dinner, to museum exhibitions, and picnics in the park, demonstrating that community, friends, and time spent in nature can inform and enhance the quality of your work in the practice room.”

After SFCM, Noack earned degrees from the University of Southern California, studying with John Perry, and from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He was artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and three years ago founded IN A LANDSCAPE.

Noack gives this advice to aspiring musicians: “Find music you love and play it. Or write your own.” To those who worry music may be too big a risk, he offers lighthearted reassurance: “A career in music is just as absurd as a career in any other field. Work hard, ask questions, be bold, be patient, be persistent, be kind. Collaborate. Have an opinion and communicate it. Above all, find a way to keep yourself entertained along the way.”