The last thing you'd expect from a stellar concert pianist, especially one on the level of Christopher O'Riley, is a rock concert. Riley, the winner of various prestigious awards, from a Van Cliburn to an Avery Fisher Career Grant, performs this weekend with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Scheduled to take on Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with the CSO, the classy keyboardist will first present a slightly different take on music when he sits down to perform at the Newman Center on Thursday night. Though True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead won't actually be plugged in, it should be completely electrifying: O'Riley confesses a downright obsession with the output of esoteric crooner Thom Yorke and crew.
"Listening to them makes me quiver a little bit," he concedes without apology. "Either they get to you or they don't. Texture has a lot to do with it: Instead of the usual verse and refrain and chucking away at chords on the guitar you hear in rock, they usually have three or four interesting and integral lines going on aside from the vocal. Just about every Radiohead tune has that going on, and most of the songs could also still be done solo without losing much of their strength." O'Riley has taken the idea a step further and arranged an entire CD of Radiohead material -- he's already got enough for a second CD, as well -- and it's clearly a cultish hit, an elite crossover attracting attention on both sides of the fence. (As one enthralled classical fan seeking works by O'Riley's composer of choice once queried, "Who is this Mr. Head?") O'Riley says the new repertoire also beefs up his stash of encore-worthy works.
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But don't count on getting a Radiohead encore when O'Riley returns to the classics back at Boettcher Hall over the weekend. "Prokofiev's second concerto is the most difficult piece I do," says the virtuoso. "I doubt I'll have an ounce of blood left afterward."