Years Performed: 1987, 1988
As a prestigious artist, pianist and national media personality, Mr. O'Riley has dazzled the world over on stage, the radio and his records. His memorable interpretations of traditional and popular repertoire make him a cherished bridge between musical tastes, genres and audience worldwide.
Mr. O'Riley's exquisite and poetic interpretations have granted him phenomenal reviews and several recording contracts with labels like Sony Classical. His warm personality has brought him to host NPR's "From the Top" for the last 10 years. Christopher O'Riley differs from other artists in two ways. First, his repertoire spans classical styles, from Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel and Busoni to contemporary artists such as Radiohead, Nirvana, Pink Floyd and Elliott Smith. He is the definition of a Classical Crossover artist. Second, O'Riley 's unique, passionate and heartfelt piano interpretations of both classical and popular music create unforgettable musical performances and astonishing audience experiences. His most famous recording, Radiohead "True Love Waits" album, was awarded four stars in Rolling Stone magazine, along with many other reviews available in the attached press kit. Most importantly, it has also created a dedicated and diverse fan base that appeals to all ages, uniting them through music.
From his groundbreaking transcriptions of Radiohead to his powerful interpretations of repertoire classic and contemporary, pianist Christopher O'Riley has rendered the possibilities of classical music. He has taken his unique vision to both traditional classical music venues and symphonic settings, as well as to entirely new audiences on the radio, at universities and even clubs. As host of the most popular classical music radio show on the air today, National Public Radio's From the Top, Mr. O'Riley works and performs with the next generation of brilliant young musicians, demonstrating to audiences, with humor and a lack of pretense, that these young artists are as characterful and diverse in their personal lives as they are in their music-making. In 2007, From the Top was filmed for public television in Zankel Concert Hall at Carnegie Hall and debuted on PBS in the spring. The series is now airing its third season.
An interpreter and arranger of some of the most important contemporary popular music of our time, O'Riley lives by the Duke Ellington adage, there are only two kinds of music, good music and bad. His first recording of Radiohead transcriptions, "True Love Waits" (Sony/Odyssey) received 4 stars from Rolling Stone and was as critically acclaimed as it was commercially successful. His second set of music from the British alt-pop out't, entitled "Hold Me to This: Christopher O'Riley plays the music of Radiohead, was released on World Village/Harmonia Mundi to a similarly enthusiastic response. In April 2006, his third set of transcriptions was released on the same label. Entitled "Home to Oblivion; An Elliott Smith Tribute", Mr. O'Riley this time tackles the deeply emotional and complex work from the troubled singer/songwriter who died prematurely in 2003. His most recent recording, released in April 2007 and entitled "Second Grace: The Music of Nick Drake", is a disc of transcriptions of the music by the British folk singer. Nick Drake died in 1974 after releasing just 3 albums, yet influenced two generations of songwriters in his wake.
Just as his radio show and his contemporary classical recordings have created extraordinary buzz, so have his performances in traditional classical context. In November 2004, Mr. O'Riley toured the U.S. with the world-famous Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Orchestra visiting 10 cities in 2 weeks, playing Bach, Mozart and Liszt concerti. He has appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, the Minnesota Orchestra, the symphonies of Pittsburgh, Detroit, Colorado, Atlanta and Baltimore. The illustrious group of conductors with whom he has collaborated includes Marin Alsop, David Zinman, Leonard Slatkin, John Williams, Neeme Järvi, Bobby McFerrin, Hans Graf, Yoel Levi, Hugh Wolff and Andrew Litton.
Performances in the 2008-2009 season include tours with James Galway and cellist Carter Brey, recitals at the University of Colorado Boulder, Duke University, Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, and orchestral engagements with the Baltimore Symphony, New Mexico Symphony, and Atlantic Classical Orchestra. At the Miller Theatre in New York City, Mr. O'Riley will showcase his own arrangements alongside Classical repertoire in three programs juxtaposing works of Shostakovich (Preludes and Fugues) with Radiohead, Claude Debussy (Images and Estampes) with Nick Drake, and Robert Schumann (Arabeske and Kreisleriana) with Elliott Smith. This season also finds O'Riley playing recitals in many of the great European cities: London, Paris, Munich, Berlin, Salzburg and Vienna.
An enthusiastic advocate of new music, Mr. O'Riley has twice participated in the annual "Absolute Concerto" concerts at Avery Fisher Hall, a brainchild of O'Riley's fan in the 80's, Andy Warhol, premiering works by Richard Danielpour and Michael Torke. In 1999-2000, he performed Michael Daugherty's "Le Tombeau de Liberace" with the Detroit Symphony and with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, both in St. Paul and on tour. He has also recently given premieres of works by Aaron Jay Kernis, including his piano quartet, "Still Movement with Hymn," (also recorded for Decca's Argo label) and the "Superstar" Etude No. 1, inspired by the pianism of Jerry Lee Lewis.
From early in his career, Mr. O'Riley was honored with many awards at the Leeds, Van Cliburn, Busoni and Montreal competitions, as well as an Avery Fisher Career Grant. He was also a finalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1981. Among his many solo releases are a Scriabin disc for Image Recordings and an all-Stravinsky disc on Elektra Nonesuch, featuring "Three Movements from Petrouchka" and Mr. O'Riley's first foray into transcriptions with his own versions of "Apollo" and "Histoire du Soldat." Other recordings include an RCA Victor Red Seal release of French repertoire for flute and piano with James Galway; his audacious debut disc of music of Busoni including the monumental "Fantasia Contrapuntistica", a disc of Ravel's solo works; a recording of Beethoven Piano Sonatas; a collaboration with cellist Carter Brey entitled "Le Grand Tango"; and the premiere recording of P.D.Q Bach's "The Short-Tempered Clavier" by the fabled composer-satirist Peter Schickele. Other contemporary composers he has recorded include Richard Danielpour, Robert Helps, Todd Brief, Roger Sessions and John Adams.
In addition to his own transcriptions, Mr. O'Riley has ventured into alternate territory on tour with other classical artists. He has developed programs with fellow pianists: "Heard Fresh: Music for Two Pianos," with the jazz pianist Fred Hersch; and "Los Tangueros," with the Argentinian pianist Pablo Ziegler, a program of two-piano arrangements that feature Astor Piazzolla's classic tangos. In 1999 he collaborated with choreographer and director Martha Clarke, who staged several stories of Anton Chekhov set to the piano works of Alexander Scriabin, performed live on stage by Mr. O'Riley. This production, titled "Vers la Flamme," toured Europe and the United States, and was presented by Jacob's Pillow, Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center, among others.
As Mr. O'Riley continues to create new directions in which to take the solo piano recital, the demand for his work internationally has continued to grow. He has performed his transcriptions at major jazz festivals in Istanbul, London, San Francisco and Sicily as well as on a tour of the U.K. He recently appeared at the Belfast Festival and he debuted in Australia at the 2006 Sydney Festival.
O'Riley studied with Russell Sherman at the New England Conservatory of Music. Christopher O'Riley splits his time between Los Angeles and rural Ohio. His radio and tv show can be found on-line at www.fromthetop.org. His personal website is at www.christopheroriley.com.