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Pianist Christopher O’Riley likes to push his boundaries. On Sunday afternoon at The Egg before a large crowd, he did just that. His program included several of his transcriptions of tunes by such rock bands as Radiohead and Pink Floyd, a few 21st century works, and some of the standards from the classical music repertoire.
O’Riley used a prepared and/or miked piano and read his transcriptions from a digital music reader. No one in the crowd knew what to expect, since O’Riley prefers to work without a program.
He began with three transcriptions: Tori Amos’ “Mother,” Radiohead’s “All I Need,” and Nick Drake’s “Place to Be.” The first was pretty with open chords; the second began with quiet Debussy-like chords before evolving into a loud, extended chorus. The third began with a long, undulating, repeated left-hand figure before the melody arrived in the right hand and then evolved accordingly.
Having never heard O’Riley’s transcriptions before, these three examples indicated he enjoyed creating an alternative soundscape: Pretty melodies that he developed into loud climaxes with muddied harmonies (because of the over pedaling) and lots of big chords and equally loud bass lines that overwhelmed the right-hand melodies. Most of the other transcriptions followed this format. These included “Us and Them” from Pink Floyd, Elliot Smith’s “Cupid’s Trick” and “Heart-shaped Box” from Kurt Cobain.
A few tunes forced O’Riley to shift his modus operandi and not use such a heavy-handed and thick approach. These included Radiohead’s “Air Bag,” which had almost Chopinesque passagework, “Lift” and “Let Down,” both of which had interesting undulating passagework under the melody and “Paranoid Android,” which had meter changes and some terrific rhythmic lines in the bass. “Mad World” by the group Tears for Fears had a particularly pretty tune and Portishead’s “The Rip” was more spatially open before devolving.
But O’Riley can turn on the classical charm. His Scarlatti Sonata in D was vibrant; his Chopin Bacarolle was nicely sung; and Ravel’s “Ondine” was magical and marvelous. He also introduced 17-year-old Vermont composer Tim Woos’ “Here and Now,” a delicate and Scriabinesque work and Thomas Ades’ “Darkness Visible.”
O’Riley’s encore was ”Bye” by Elliot Smith.