FORT ROCK — Eastern Oregon’s high desert landscape was an impromptu part of the performance when classical pianist Hunter Noack brought his “In A Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild” series to the Fort Rock caldera Saturday night.
“John Cage would have loved it,” Noack told an audience of nearly 200 after playing “In A Landscape,” a Cage composition and theme for his 14-part series through Oregon and southern Washington.
Noack had played on as sudden, powerful blasts of wind sent lawn chairs flying and spewed walls of blinding sand on listeners. Cage, a sometimes controversial composer, was known for his inventive, often unorthodox works that, according to musical historians, “Famously challenged the very notion of what music is” helped introduce what has become known as “performance art.”
Performing classical music on a 9-foot long Steinway piano strapped atop a trailer in Fort Rock’s spacious caldera was unorthodox and, according to Fort Rock Basin residents, unprecedented. Most of the audience carted lawn chairs and blankets to listen while others wore music-transmitting headphones while wandering about the sagebrush flavored landscape.
Along with Cage’s anthem, Noack played a series of compositions, but his classic Rock didn’t include the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry or Bruce Springsteen. Instead, his offerings included “Organ Prelude in G Minor” by J.S. Bach and Alexander Siloti, “Ondine” by Maurice Ravel, and “Winnsboro Cotton Mills Blues” by Frederic Rzeski.
Sandwiched between Noack’s selections were flute solos by Kyle Ruggles of Burns, whose performance was likewise influenced by Fort Rock’s whimsical landscape. Frustrated by gusting winds that affected his playing and different times caused him to stop and regroup, Ruggles apologized, “I’m really sorry,” prompting an audience member to shout, “We don’t know the difference.”
The whims of nature and the location were part of the lure for an audience of nearly 200 people who enjoyed the Saturday sunset serenade. Allowing people to experience classical music in the ethereal setting was part of Noack’s goal.
“Part of this process is about me getting know a place,” Noack, 28, said before his performance at Fort Rock, a crescent-shaped volcanic feature with palisade-like walls that rise up to 325 feet above the Fort Rock Basin. “I fell in love with Fort Rock,” he said, remembering his impressions while scouting locations for the “In a Landscape” concert series that began earlier this month. “I forgot how incredible and diverse this landscape is.”
Getting to hear a style of music seldom heard in rural northern Lake County was an amalgamation of people — locals with predominately farming and ranching backgrounds; travelers from the Klamath Basin, Rogue Valley and Bend areas curious to experience music in a unique setting; people attending the 90th annual Fort Rock Homesteaders Reunion; and folks like Nolan O’Leary, 28, a Lake County farmer who’s been bailing hay in the Fort Rock area — “We cut 1,500 acres in four days” — and attended because it was, “Something happening up here.”
O’Leary, a fourth generation Lake County farmer-rancher, said, “I thought it was nifty, neat” while enjoying a post-concert beverage at Fort Rock’s The Waterin’ Hole. “I don’t know classical music, but I could be willing to learn.”
As much as the music, O’Leary and others were lured by what locals call “The Rock.”
Geologists say Fort Rock was created when a 50,000 to 100,000 years ago volcanic eruption through a basaltic vent rose to the surface of a prehistoric freshwater lake, firing steams of molten basalt skyward. The falling hot lava and ash settled around the vent, creating a ring-shaped island. Over thousands of years the lake’s waves eroded the outside walls. When the lake dried, Fort Rock, so named because of its fort-like appearance, towered above the surrounding basin.
Monday night, Noack and his small support crew had an easier time of it, moving the Steinway to the supernatural landscape of Crater Lake National Park. Noack has seven more site concerts, including tonight at the Oregon State Capitol Park in Salem followed by performances in Newport, Eugene, the Alvord Desert, Baker City, Pendleton and Clarkston, Wash.