It’s not often that classical music and alternative rock come together in any meaningful way. Phillip Glass might be one of the few composers whose work might straddle the edges of that definition. The few composers who even acknolodge non classical music do it in tribute to pop or jazz.
Of those classical composers who would re-imagine alternative rock songs, very few can match Christopher O’Riley and his obsession with Radiohead. An accomplished classical pianist in his own right, O’Riley is the host of the popular NPR show From The Top.
On his show he often features young up and coming classical musicians who were likely to listen to the kind of rock music that O’Riley himself pays tribute to. Besides, anyone practicing classical piano would probably enjoy taking a break from the likes of an acient Frédéric Chopin or Franz Liszt songbook.
On his second album (but first Radiohead tribute), True Love Waits: Christopher O’Riley Plays Radiohead , O’ Riley covers an ecletic variety of Radiohead songs that span their catalog. Even the cover art is a tribute of a sorts, combining graphic elements of OK Computer, Kid A and Amnesiac. Musically, familiar hits like “Karma Police” are mixed in with more experimental material like “Thinking About You”. All these songs got a classical piano treatment.
Interestingly many of the songs in their original versions feature the complex layered sound that Radiohead had begun to develop by 2000 with their Kid A album. O’Riley handles this layered sound approach with skillful piano playing that suggests the sound of two pianists playing at the same time. The considerable skill and dexterity needed to do justice to songs like “Thinking About You” and “You” alone makes True Love Waits… worth hearing for fans of classical piano and Radiohead.
The classical treatment strips away much of the mystique of the originals and in its place adds a clean elegance that stresses and sometimes reveals hidden melodies. If you are one of those people who can’t get enough Radiohead, True Love Waits… offers an interesting alternative to your usual fix.
O’Riley offers alternative rock fans a great way to slowly ease into the world of classical music without the stigma of having bought a Windham Hill record. If that’s not enough to interest you in the more progressive forms of classical music, there’s always Phillip Glass and Steve Reich.
Glass revisited David Bowie’s Hero album (With Bowie) in 1997, but to date no classical musician (that I’m aware of) has touched Radiohead’s or any other alt rock band’s material like Christopher O’Riley.