Christopher O'Riley Saves the Day at Spokane Symphony Orchestra
Heroic action is not often called for in the world of classical music, but on Saturday, January 17, renowned pianist Christopher O’Riley performed an act of artistic derring-do that many accomplished musicians would have shied away from. The Spokane Symphony saw its originally scheduled soloist, Gabriela
Montero, called to Washington to perform at the Inauguration of President Obama. A few days before the concert, her replacement, Orli Shaham, suddenly fell victim to the flu.
Agreeing to come to the Symphony’s rescue on the Wednesday immediately preceding the concert, O’Riley commenced round-the-clock rehearsal of the repertoire -- Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 -- at home in Cleveland, then flew to Spokane to rehearse with the Symphony just two days later. Despite the short space of time to prepare such a demanding program and the considerable stress under which he was operating, this Van Cliburn Award winner/laureate turned in a typically masterful performance, earning a standing ovation and several curtain calls. Here’s what Travis Rivers of the The Spokesman- Review in Seattle had to say:
“O’Riley is perhaps better known as the host of the National Public Radio program “From the Top,” where he introduces up-and-coming young performers. But Saturday’s performance demonstrated that O’Riley is a nimble and elegant concert artist, traits required by Beethoven’s concerto… Ludwig von Beethoven wrote it when he was 23 to introduce his own virtuosity as a pianist to the Viennese public. O’Riley was perfectly at home with Beethoven’s flowing Mozartian passages and completely assured in the dramatic surprises the impetuous young Beethoven dished out to conservative Vienna… Some of O’Riley’s most impressive moments came in the solo cadenza to the first movement, with its harmonic adventurousness. Also striking were the tender dialogue passages between soloist and orchestra near the close of the Adagio. O’Riley and the orchestra seemed to have great fun with gypsy-tinged high spirits of the finale. So did their audience.”
Christopher O’ Riley’s poetic gifts and captivating virtuosity have made him one of the most important pianists performing before the public today. He enjoys a thriving concert career with a singularly broad repertoire ranging from music of the English Renaissance and French Baroque periods to new works by today’s leading composers to such non-classical forms as the tango. Mr. O’Riley had already won acclaim for his adaptations of works in the classical canon before applying this talent to such contemporary artists as George Harrison, Nick Drake, Radiohead, and Elliott Smith. These recent efforts have earned plaudits from both classical-music writers and such publications as Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Alternative Press.
O’Riley has been tireless in his efforts to make classical music a vital and visible presence on the contemporary scene. In addition to his performing and recording activities, he hosts the top-rated weekly NPR show From The Top and the PBS series From the Top at Carnegie.
Watch Chris' interview at the TPR Studios here.