Pianist Christopher O’Riley graced the Eastman stage with the music of Radiohead and pieces by numerous other artists on Tuesday. O’Riley is best known these days for his variety in the music he plays – varying from heavy metal to classical – and for his eloquence on his National Public Radio talk show “From the Top.”
O’Riley has single-handedly redefined the possibilities of classical music. Working on his radio show, O’Riley has had the opportunity to work alongside some of this generation’s most brilliant young musicians. He has shown to these young artists that they can be as charismatic and diverse in their music-making lives as they are in their own personal lives.
When O’Riley first began recording his Radiohead transcriptions – “True Love Waits” being his first – Rolling Stone magazine awarded him four stars and he was critically acclaimed to be widely successful commercially. His performances and recordings have created an extraordinary buzz among both young and old audiences.
On Tuesday, O’Riley took the stage with great confidence. “You could tell how comfortable he was,” sophomore Patrick Wahl said. “He was so well-spoken and natural, and added in a witty comment here and there to get a good laugh.”
The two-hour-long concert was half packed with Eastman/River Campus students, and the other half being an older demographic from the greater Rochester community. O’Riley began his concert with a tribute. A good friend of his, whom he studied under and learned from all his life, had recently died and he chose to dedicate his performance to her.
In O’Riley’s performance, roughly half of his songs were covers of Radiohead while the other half were mostly the songs of composer Dmitri Shostakovich. O’Riley recently performed in Australia at the Sydney Festival in a program entitled “Shostakovich meets Radiohead.
“He is so passionate about his music when he plays,” Wahl said. “He sweats like crazy and he really just seems to melt with his songs. He played each one of his songs note for note and he completely moved across the piano with excitement and intensity.”
Experimental rock group Radiohead is not the easiest band to cover when it comes to playing the piano. On top of that, O’Riley had quite the audience to please as many had taken his concert as a Valentine’s Day outing.
Playing his Radiohead cover of “True Love Waits,” O’Riley took a minute to dedicate his song to his valentine, Michelle. “I really felt he put out a heartwarming vibe to the whole audience at that point,” Wahl said. “It was a nice way to spend the holiday and added something to the show.”
Continuing, he said, “Radiohead’s ‘2+2=5″ was O’Riley’s hardest piece of the night and was without a doubt his best piece. He asked, in the beginning of the show, that [the crowd] give him a standing ovation for that song because he knew it would be a triumph if he made it through flawlessly.”
Though O’Riley did not receive such praise at the end of this piece, Wahl believed it was merely because people did not know that that was the piece they were to stand for, for if they knew, people would have been flying out of their seats. “It was just that good,” he said.
O’Riley played roughly 15 songs and ended the night with two encores and received a standing ovation when the show was over. With excitement, he joined the crowd at the end signing CD’s while talking and answering questions with many of the show’s attendees.
“He just seems like such a nice guy,” Wahl said. “It’s really no wonder that he is such a successful artist.”
O’Riley is continuously taking new turns with his music as his popularity continues to rise. The demand for his music internationally is growing while he has already performed in countries like Istanbul, Sicily and the United Kingdom.
In performing in duos as well as in groups, O’Riley endlessly proves himself as a solo success with a love for diversity in music and it is this assortment and taste in that have helped to bring in audiences of all ages.
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