by Marc Shulgold
Jon Kimura Parker is one of those guys who flatly dismisses all the stuffy traditions of being a concert pianist. “I never liked the old formalities,” the Canadian-born musician said. “I walk onstage excited to play. I just love the act of sharing music with my audience. I want my performance to be engaging. I never forget that we’re all disciples of the music.”
Known to friends (and casual acquaintances, no doubt) as Jackie, Parker has traveled the world as a self-described concerto specialist. His vehicle with Peter Oundjian and the Colorado Festival Orchestra in Chautauqua Auditorium on Friday, July 5, is a work he has embraced countless times: Gershwin’s Concerto in F. “I feel 100 percent at home with it,” he noted, speaking from Orcas Island off the Washington coast, where his wife runs a chamber music festival. “The Gershwin is actually the work I’ve performed the most, along with the Brahms First (Concerto). Somehow, it fits my personality. It’s so New York, where I lived for 20 years.”
For a well-traveled musician – his biography is lengthy and impressive – Parker admits that he’s not appeared at Chautauqua until this summer. “I know it doesn’t count, but I was recently in Boulder, part of a jury of three, judging a new competition known as the Art of the Duo. I was so impressed with the winners of the grand prize, an accordion-piano duo from Poland, that I invited them to appear at Honens” – a reference to his Calgary-based Honens International Piano Competition.
In addition to playing the Gershwin at Friday’s post-July Fourth patriotic program, Parker will team with young piano sensation Coco Ma in Saint-Saens’ charming Carnival of the Animals at the Sunday afternoon, July 7, Family Concert, paired with the inescapable Peter and the Wolf in a staged performance by the theatrical duo Really Inventive Stuff.
Funny thing about his pairing with Ma, Parker pointed out. “I was at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario and gave a master class, with only one young pianist participating. It was Coco Ma, and I was bowled over by her talent. Amazingly, it’s a total coincidence that we’re booked together, playing the Saint-Saens.”
Filled with anecdotes from a busy and wonderfully varied career in music, Parker could not resist sharing one about his collaborator in the Gershwin Concerto, Festival music director Peter Oundjian. “Peter and I were students at Juilliard at the same time, though we never met. Which made sense, since we were playing different instruments (Parker on piano, Oundjian studying violin). But at graduation, we were all lined up alphabetically – so O came just before P. And that’s how we met. And since then, we’ve enjoyed a long performing relationship.”
That, Parker pointed out, makes for better music-making. “On the one hand, professional soloists are used to meeting the conductor at the first rehearsal, and then simply going on to perform. But when there’s a relationship, a friendship, it makes a difference. I’d performed many times with the Tokyo Quartet when Peter was a member, and quite a bit with his Toronto Symphony. He has a quiet confidence on the podium that really puts me at ease.”
With that, the pianist couldn’t resist one more Oundjian anecdote. A resident of Houston, where he teaches at Rice University and lives with his wife, violinist Aloysia Friedmann and their daughter Sophie, Parker welcomed his old friend and took him out for dinner not long ago. “I brought Peter to a favorite restaurant, and on the way home, I got lost and found myself driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Peter was very calm, and quietly suggested we make our exit. The next time I played in Toronto, my program bio listed my name, and then added that I had almost gotten Oundjian killed driving the wrong way on a one-way street. It was right there for everyone in the audience to read!”
Jon Kimura Parker will be soloist Friday at 7:30 p.m. in a concert led by Festival music director Peter Oundjian in Chautauqua Auditorium. Parker will also join in a performance of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals as part of a Family Concert in Chautauqua at 3 p.m. Sunday. Information: 303-440-7666 or ColoradoMusicFestival.org.