Acclaimed for his engaging and deeply committed performances, the pianist Christopher O’Riley is known to millions as the host of NPR’s From the Top. His repertoire spans a kaleidoscopic array of music from the pre-baroque to present-day. He performs around the world and has garnered widespread praise for his untiring efforts to reach new audiences.
Now in his fifteenth year on air, Christopher O’Riley introduces the next generation of classical-music stars to almost a million listeners each week on From the Top, broadcast by 250 stations across the United States. O’Riley also hosted the Emmy Award-winning television series From the Top at Carnegie Hall, and has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma, Bobby McFerrin, Midori, Béla Fleck, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Sir James Galway, Michael Feinstein, and many more.
Christopher O’Riley has performed as a soloist with virtually all of the major American orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, National Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony. He led the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on a two-week tour of ten American cities performing concertos by Bach, Mozart, and Liszt. He also performed Górecki and Michael Daugherty’s Le Tombeau de Liberace in a series of concerts with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and toured throughout the United Kingdom with the Moscow Philharmonic. He has worked with such renowned conductors as Alan Gilbert, David Robertson, Leonard Slatkin, Neeme Järvi, Marin Alsop, Semyon Bychkov, Hugh Wolff, and many others. In addition, O’Riley has performed recitals throughout North America, Europe, and Australia.
Living by the Duke Ellington adage “There are only two kinds of music, good music and bad,” O’Riley – a proponent of the former in all of its guises – has received the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant and an equally coveted four-star review from Rolling Stone magazine. O’Riley strives to introduce new audiences to classical music with an almost missionary zeal by performing piano arrangements of music by Radiohead, Elliott Smith, Pink Floyd, and Nirvana alongside traditional classical repertoire. He has performed recitals featuring these arrangements at such diverse venues as the Istanbul Jazz Festival, Highline Ballroom (NYC), the Knitting Factory (LA), and South by Southwest (Austin, TX).
O’Riley also tours with a program called Shuffle.Play.Listen together with the cellist Matt Haimovitz that combines classical and contemporary repertoire; a program called Two to Tango together with Pablo Ziegler featuring new compositions and arrangements based on the music of Astor Piazzolla; and one called Out of My Hands featuring music from many genres in a program that is announced from the stage. He has collaborated for many years in recitals with the flutist Sir James Galway and cellist Carter Brey.
A prolific recording artist, O’Riley has recorded the music of Beethoven, Stravinsky, Scriabin, Liszt, Ravel, Gershwin, Debussy, and John Adams for Sony Classical, Oxingale Records, RCA Red Seal, Decca, and Harmonia Mundi. His most recent solo recording featured two discs of Liszt’s transcriptions, including songs by Schumann and Schubert, the opera paraphrase on Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” the Don Juan Fantasy, and Liszt’s own transcription of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, liberally re-imagined by O’Riley.
Also a voracious reader, Christopher O’Riley has developed a number of projects combining music and literature. He has composed scores for works of Mark Z. Danielewski and Kris Saknussemm. Most recently, O’Riley collaborated with the choreographer Martha Clarke on “Vers la Flamme,” a fully-staged production with six dancers based on short stories of Anton Chekhov set to the music of Alexander Scriabin. This program was performed at Lincoln Center, The American Dance Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Festival, and the Kennedy Center.