It’s not unusual to hear music outside. Guitars and ukuleles pop up around campfires. String quartets cluster on lawns at outdoor weddings. What’s more unusual: a classical piano concert en plein air.

A recent performance of pianist Hunter Noack and the “In a Landscape” project brought this experience to the Playa residency site in Summer Lake. Along a desert lakebed, at the foot of a stern desert mountain, Playa offered an oasis.

Audiences, complete with kids and picnic baskets, sprawled out on lush lawns. In front of a picturesque pond stood a flatbed truck trailer. Upon the flatbed stood a Steinway grand piano.

Audience members were given wireless headphones. Noack invited people to walk around the grounds and promenade alongside the vast desert playa, carrying the music with them.

He opened with Chopin’s “Grand Polonaise,” its liquid grace interplaying with the rustling of a strong breeze through trees and cattails (for those who left their headphones off). The audience was encouraged to sit by the pond during a water-inspired piece, with the music trickling and burbling. During Frederic Rzewski’s “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues,” Noack invited folks to stretch out underneath the piano.

Noack is from Central Oregon. He grew up in Sunriver, though he went away to attend boarding school at Interlochen Arts Academy. At home, he said, “I would go fly-fishing with my dad, duck-hunting; we did most of our hunting and fishing along the Deschutes and in the Cascades.”

He spent eight years living in cities including London, where he earned his master’s degree at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Noack said, “When I came back to Oregon, I wasn’t planning on staying. I was only here waiting for my visa to go back to England.”

Instead, “I fell back in love with Oregon and these landscapes.” Now based in Portland, Noack enjoys traveling the whole state for performances. “I still hunt and fish, and try to get out as much as I can.”

Noack played fluidly, selecting compositions that ranged the whole keyboard and showcased his nimble fingers and responsive instrument. Halfway through the evening, guest vocalist Katie Harman Ebner from Klamath Falls animated the stage with song. In a friendly way, she contextualized each piece, educating the roving listeners and rapt picnickers alike.

She started with an intriguing piece by Amy Beach, the acclaimed early American composer and pianist. Next, Debussy’s “C’est l’extase” rolled sensually over the undulating grasses. Ebner’s set closed with the dramatic “Les chemins de l’amour” by Poulenc, punctuated by wild geese flying close, as though choreographed into the performance.

Headphones were necessary to hear vocals and announcements, but optional for the piano alone. “When I first started, I wasn’t sure about the technology; I thought it was maybe gimmicky or something,” Noack said. He has grown to appreciate the sense of intimacy they can bring.

That evening during the performance, he saw a couple holding hands far off, walking along the water with their headphones on.

“I just liked imagining that I was connected to them,” he said.

He noted that many people today are accustomed to hearing classical music in film, where it is used specifically to prod their emotions while “there’s something visually happening.” Headphones offer a similar experience to Noack’s audiences.

“Because the landscape is changing, the music becomes a soundtrack to whatever they’re seeing… it heightens everybody’s senses,” he said. “What I hear from people is that they’re feeling more, seeing more vivid colors. It has that effect because it’s live and immediate, and blocks out other noises.”

Noack also appreciates that the headphones and landscape deflect the audience’s visual attention away from him. An impeccably dressed, charming 30-year-old, he seems at ease being the object of attention. However, he said, “I’m not the most physically dramatic performer, so I love that people have the option to watch me or not.”

As the evening progressed, Noack responded to the changing weather, light, and mood. Toward the end, inspired by the wind, he played “Un Suspiro” (“A Sigh”) by Franz Liszt, arpeggios soaring up and down the keyboard while birds and dragonflies soared overhead.

After the performance, audience members were encouraged to scramble up onto the flatbed and experience the piano’s buttery action under their own fingers. The event’s friendly feel and outdoor environment made the instrument seem much less imposing than it might in a concert hall. Even children’s improvisations and halting renditions of “Für Elise” sounded warm and powerful.

The nine-foot 1912 Steinway has its own devoted roadie, piano technician/musician Cameron Edens. He tunes and maintains the Steinway for hours each time it is moved—which during this leg of the tour was every day. “In a Landscape” continues this month, heading from Central Oregon to the Wallowas and ending at Sacajawea Historical State Park in Washington on September 21.