Building bridges, finding common ground…
Could he possibly be the coolest classical artist in the business?
The answers to the following questions and a glance at the rest of the O’Riley pages could give you a clue.
Q. What does acclaimed pianist CHRISTOPHER O’RILEY do when he’s not on tour as a chamber music player or an orchestral soloist playing one of the great piano concertos? Or when he’s not hosting National Public Radio’s (NPR) popular weekly classical music radio show “From the Top” (which since 2007 now has its own season on Public Television)?
A. He unleashes his musical imagination in pursuit of his third calling: morphing his favorite pop/rock songs into his very own classical-style arrangements. He did it first with the music of the alt-pop/rock English band RADIOHEAD – to the great delight of most of the band’s fans – who probably very rarely set foot in a symphony hall.
And some who would otherwise never have heard of RADIOHEAD listened too, even if perhaps hesitatingly at first – because, well, if CHRISTOPHER O’RILEY believes it’s “good music,” then, there must be something there.”True Love Waits,” his first CD of RADIOHEAD transcriptions (2003) was a commercial success, receiving 4 stars from Rolling Stone magazine. This inspired a second album “Hold Me to This: Christopher O’Riley plays the music of Radiohead,” (2005) and then a third “Home to Oblivion, Elliot Smith Tribute” in memory of the late American singer-songwriter who died in 2003 at the age of 34.
In April 2007, a new album “Second Grace: The Music of Nick Drake” was released on the World Village/Harmonia Mundi label. O’RILEY’s piano transcriptions of the songs on this album received their WORLD PREMIERE in “Time Has Told Me: A NICK DRAKE Tribute” on February 16, 2007 at UCLA’s Royce Hall.
Q. If you’re like us, you would likely be asking “But who is NICK DRAKE?”
A. He was an English folk/pop artist and songwriter who like ELLIOT SMITH wrote songs of alienation, mortality, and love lost. And like SMITH, he died young – in 1974 at age 26 – from an overdose of drugs in which he sadly sought refuge, leaving behind three albums of songs that are the bedrock of the cult that today’s belated fans have built around this tragic figure. It is said that NICK DRAKE’s music was a source of inspiration to RADIOHEAD’s vocal soloist, THOM YORKE.
Obviously, the music of these pop/rock artists speak to O’RILEY’s soul and his musical sensibilities. Indeed, he has said that beneath the surface he hears multiple layers of harmonies and textures – nuances that are hidden from people like us with lesser musical imaginations. And what he has at the very least accomplished through his piano transcriptions is open minds, ours included, to a totally unfamiliar musical landscape, and by so doing has hopefully begun to narrow the seemingly abyssmal gap between pop/rock and classical music.
Having said that, we invite you to listen to some clips from O’Riley’s “Nick Drake” CD, also performed in a World Premiere recital at Royce Hall on February 16, 2007 which FanFaire celebrated with a FanFaire-UCLA Live Ticket Giveaway:
Track 1 – Rider on the Wheel
Track 2 – Pink Moon
Track 5 – Riverman
Christopher O’Riley studied with the great American teacher Russell Sherman.
-JB © FanFaire 2007