Downtown Music

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July 25, 2005 // UPDATED 1:56 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Holly Day
Holly Day

Radiohead made the pop star

Even though it might seem like a gimmick, Christopher O'Riley's classical take on the music of Radiohead is an amazing piece of work that spans two albums and hundreds of performances internationally. His newest release, "Hold Me to This: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead" - the follow-up to 2003's "True Love Waits: O'Riley Plays Radiohead" - is a lush collection of Radiohead songs turned into acoustic, solo piano, classically influenced pieces drawing from the original heart of the composer as much as it does its source material.

"Basically, it's just a matter of loving the song enough to make it work," O'Riley said of the process of turning a pop song into a classical piece. "The thing with Radiohead's music in particular is that I don't think there are any Radiohead songs that I don't love, and so it's a matter of playing around with it, and realizing the capabilities of the piano, and trying to make that work. And also to make it work all the way through, so I don't have this feeling that there's this really cool part of the original song that can't be done on the piano, so I'm just kind of muddling my way through part of the song.

"I always like to have the feeling, every second of the song, playing it, as I do [when] listening to my favorite performance of the band playing it. Basically, if it doesn't work, I won't do it. There have been some songs that I've started working on and just never got around to finishing because I really couldn't find a way to make them work on the piano."

Some of my favorite songs on this album are not my favorite Radiohead songs. O'Riley's take on "No Surprises" is especially poignant and beautiful, and while I like the original, I love the O'Riley version. "How I Made My Millions" is a soft, tinkly piece that stays in the upper registers of the piano for most of the song, building to a delicate, sensitive climax that denies the strong-armed tactics of the original version. "Paranoid Android" and "Gagging Order" are so far removed from the originals that there really is no contest - both the Radiohead and the O'Riley versions are separate entities worth listening to again and again.

So where does one find O'Riley's CDs in your neighborhood music store? In with the stodgy old classical standards, or in the stacks with the bubblegum pop stars?

"My records get put in the Radiohead section, most of the time, which makes me very happy," O'Riley said. "A couple of weeks ago, though, I was in a Boston Virgin Record store, and I was looking for the CD, and I didn't see it in classical, I didn't see it in Radiohead, and I was getting really furious, and then I saw it in the Pop/Rock section - and I've got my own section. So I'm not even a classical pianist anymore. I'm a pop star!"

He laughed.

"It is nice having a body of work, enough so that I have my own little section at a Virgin Megastore, I suppose. And so I guess it does say something about the ability of some people to listen to what I do and appreciate it, because, gee, it's not like I'm writing my own music. I'm just kind of doing my own takes on music that I love."

On top of touring for "Hold Me to This," O'Riley's newest CD, covering the songs of the late Elliot Smith, is about to hit stores as well.

This special late-night concert is another one of the Orchestra Hall occasions where audience members get a chance to sit up on the stage right next to the performer.

• Su July 30, 11 p.m. Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Ave. $10 (or $15 on stage). 371-5656,