Famed pianist Christopher O’Riley, best known as the host of NPR’s “From the Top” and for his love of Radiohead, has worked closely with many students in the University’s School of Music during his extended residency here. He’ll be performing his final concert at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the University.
The concert will feature the pianist’s take on Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” in the Recital Hall of the School of Music.
For the past three years, O’Riley has spent three weeks of every semester working with the students at the School of Music through master classes, private lessons and his participation in various orchestra and chamber concerts.
“Having Mr. O’Riley at LSU has definitely been a unique experience,” said piano performance senior Sarah Rushing. “Most schools don’t have a concert pianist in residence, especially not one with such a great reputation in so many areas of music.”
O’Riley praised the School of Music for the students’ talent and drive.
“The spirit and depth and enthusiasm of the students as well as the desire to work is very palpable. There’s a great sense of positivity,” he said.
Whether it’s through playing with the young musicians on NPR’s “From the Top” or working with the students here on campus, O’Riley has shown a deep respect for younger musicians throughout his career.
“I found working with Mr. O’Riley particularly gratifying because he coupled his great stature as a piano virtuoso with a sincere interest and easy communication with young people like our students,” said associate professor of conducting and director of orchestral studies Carlos Riazuelo.
O’Riley said young people now have an exciting opportunity to integrate the wide range of musical interests available to them through modern-day conveniences such as the Internet. The pianist himself is no stranger to eclecticism, having released several albums of his interpretations of popular music which include Radiohead, Elliot Smith and Nick Drake.
“He plays Rachmaninoff and Radiohead equally well and convincingly,” Riazuelo said. “This stylistic versatility singles him out.”
O’Riley said these covers are the product of his sheer love for music. For many listeners, however, these recordings serve to bridge the divide between two seemingly disparate worlds of music, introducing younger listeners to the same classical music that inspired artists like Radiohead.
O’Riley’s presence at the School of Music will be missed, but the students said they won’t forget the many valuable lessons he has imparted.
“If there’s any one thing I’ve taken away from Mr. O’Riley’s teaching, it’s his attention to detail,” Rushing said.
She said O’Riley’s emphasis on detail, as well as the importance he places on the individual voice of an artist, helped her to zero in on her own interpretation of Brahms’ “Op. 116,” which they worked on together.
The “Goldberg Variations” that O’Riley will be playing Monday night are widely considered to be the finest example of the variation form, and the collection is the only piece that Bach wrote in this form.
O’Riley said the piece, originally for the harpsichord, is said to have been written by Bach for a Russian ambassador to cheer him up during bouts of insomnia. He said the piece is anything but sleepy though, featuring lively, cheerful passages that convey a positive tone.