Alongside giant dams and countless post offices, the Works Progress Administration also funded ambitious artistic undertakings by painters, musicians and writers during the Great Depression.
One young Oregon artist is harking back to that era with a concert series called “In A Landscape,” from Aug. 20–Sept. 1. The pianist Hunter Noack has invited such musical luminaries as Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes to join him in playing classical music in some of the region’s most famous WPA sites and parks. Think Timberline, Council Crest and the Columbia River Gorge’s Crown Point Vista House.
“I like that in the Great Depression, when there was this difficult time, Roosevelt decided that the arts were just as important as the infrastructure,” Noack said. “[The WPA] was a really fantastic project that most people my age don’t know about, and with cuts across education in the arts, I wanted to show how government funds, mostly from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, can be used to give people a 21st Century classical music experience where it marries technology and my favorite art form.”
While the seating for “In A Landscape” will be set up concert style, the musicians will be all miked and concert quality audio will be fed via a radio signal to headphones handed out to the audience — a la the “silent disco” style dance parties. That way, listeners can wander around the sites and into the forests, which were chosen for their theatrical setting over their acoustics, while still listening.
“Giving people the opportunity to sit and have their more traditional concert experience in a different environment is one thing,” he said, “but then to be able to go and watch the river go by, that can help people to connect with pieces of classical music in a way they couldn’t in a concert hall.”
The music will include selections from Chopin, Debbusy, Schubert, Ravel and others, interspersed with readings from William Stafford, Opal Whitely, Walt Whitman and more.
Noack has a history of bringing music to unlikely places — NPR's Ari Shapiro said of an immersive show he did at the Barbican Centre, “Fresh, creative productions like this are what keeps London’s art scene vibrant" — which is why he agreed to drag a piano out into the West Hills to play a few of the songs for the audio postcard above.
"In A Landscape" Schedule:
Aug. 20 at 7pm — Vista House at Crown Point, featuring China Forbes
Aug. 21 at 4pm — Timberline Lodge, featuring Pink Martini's Nicholas Crosa (violin) and Pansy Chang (cello)
Aug. 23 at 7pm — Tryon Creek State Park, featuring Crosa and Chang
Aug. 24 at 7pm — Oneonta Tunnel in the Columbia River Gorge, featuring Crosa and Chang
Aug. 25 at 7pm — Stevens Pavilion at Hoyt Arboretum, featuring Pink Martini's Thomas Lauderdale (piano), Crosa and Chang
Aug. 27 at 7pm — Henry Hagg Lake in Gaston, featuring Lauderdale, Crosa and Chang
Aug. 29 at noon — Director Park, featuring Lauderdale
Aug. 31 at 7pm — Stein-Boozier Barn in Wilsonville, featuring Lauderdale, Crosa and Chang
Sept. 1 at 7pm — Cathedral Park + Heartbeat Silent Disco dance party afterward