From his groundbreaking transcriptions of Radiohead to his powerful interpretations of repertoire classic and contemporary, pianist CHRISTOPHER O'RILEY has redefined 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, 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.
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 outfit, 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. On "Home to Oblivion: An Elliott Smith Tribute," 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 of 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 O'Riley's radio show and his contemporary classical recordings have created extraordinary buzz, so have his performances in traditional classical context. In November 2004, he toured the U.S. with the world-famous Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, visiting 10 cities in 2 weeks, playing Bach, Mozart, and Liszt concerti. He has appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, with the Minnesota Orchestra, and with 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 2007/08 season include appearances with the Ravinia Festival, the Virginia Symphony, Stanford Lively Arts, and at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.
An enthusiastic advocate of new music, O'Riley has twice participated at Avery Fisher Hall in the annual "Absolute Concerto" concerts (a brainchild of O'Riley's fan in the '80s, 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" (recorded for Decca's Argo label), and the "Superstar" Etude No. 1, a work inspired by the pianism of Jerry Lee Lewis.
From early in his career, 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 at 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 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 Contrappuntistica; 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 whose music he has recorded include Richard Danielpour, Robert Helps, Todd Brief, Roger Sessions, and John Adams.
In addition to his own transcriptions, 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 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 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 show can be found on-line at www.fromthetop.org.