The Star Tribune reviewed Christopher O’Riley’s Sommerfest performance:
In an unusual move, as part of Sommerfest, the Minnesota Orchestra offered two concerts Friday night, playing host to what might have seemed like two different worlds.
The first was a standard orchestra concert conducted by Patrick Summers with pianist Christopher O’Riley as soloist. The second, which started at 11 p.m., was a recital during which O’Riley played his own transcriptions of songs by the English rock band Radiohead.
The first was attended by a mostly older crowd, the second by a group looking to be from late teens to late 20s. A small number went to both, judging by overheard conversations and by the cheer that went up during the first concert when O’Riley mentioned the Radiohead recital to the audience. To be sure, these are different idioms: Brahms, Dvorak, Chopin and Prokofiev (O’Riley played the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1) followed by the often rather complicated and yet poignant songs of Radiohead, which is rock more in a marketing than in a truly musical sense.
It was the similarities that were interesting. Much of what O’Riley has so painstakingly — and often beautifully — created in these Radiohead arrangements or paraphrases draw from a highly pianistic, 19th-century style: the thick Brahmsian chords that open “Fake Plastic Trees” for instance, or the shimmering, Rachmaninoff-like filigree in “Motion Picture Soundtrack.” Both of those songs are from O’Riley’s Radiohead compilation, “True Love Waits,” which has been such a hit that he will record a follow-up CD.
The frequent concertgoer, that is, who claims to hate rock would likely have been quite at ease listening to Radiohead, at least to these versions, and the rock fan who thinks classical music is stuffy might have found the evening’s first program engaging.
In Prokofiev, the rock fan might, in fact, have found a soul mate. Whereas Dvorak and Brahms are determinedly cheerful, at least in their dances, Prokofiev is full of irony and insolence and anxiety, as is Radiohead, though O’Riley’s deft performance of the First Concerto on Friday night brought out additional elements of sparkle and whimsy. Both concerts were enthusiastically received, though there was a notable reverence in the rapt, hushed way the younger audience listened that wasn’t present in the earlier concert.
It helps that O’Riley so obviously loves these songs and has put so much of himself into these transcriptions. He played for about 70 minutes and, after playing two encores, left the stage looking gratified but exhausted.