Parker and Litton team up again
VAIL – Pianist Jon Kimura Parker has played for Queen Elizabeth II twice and had jam sessions with The Bare Naked Ladies and Doc Severinson’s band.He grew up idolizing piano legends like Arthur Rubenstein, while at the same time learning the works of Elton John, so much that his knowledge of the Rocket Man took him from awkward times in high school to being a hero of his class.”I played for and met Queen Elizabeth twice for official events arranged by the Canadian government and they were both incredibly exciting experiences,” Parker said.”I played a gala television special once that had all number of different kinds of musicians, including the Canadian rock band Bare Naked Ladies. We ended up in a big dressing room area for the afternoon. I had so much fun hanging out with them, and after the concert, we jammed a little bit and I just liked that experience. It’s ear-opening for a classical musician to have that experience.”
Tonight, Parker, or “Jackie” as he’s known to his many friends around the world, brings his deeply accomplished resume and his open mind for music of all kinds to the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival at the Ford Amphitheater at 6 p.m. He’ll be performing Beethoven’s “Emperor” piano concerto, as Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra opens its residency in a program which includes the debut of composer-in-residence Melinda Wagner’s “57/7 Dash: Overture for Percussion and Orchestra” as well as Brahms’ Second Symphony.Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Parker started his musical career by listening to classical music on the radio and trying to match the melodies on the piano at the age of 3. He started formally with his mother, a piano teacher, at 4.”I knew in first grade that I was absolutely going to be a pianist,” Parker said. “I had no doubts in my mind whatsoever. I actually thought it was really strange that nobody else in my first-grade class knew what they were going to do. It seemed so obvious.”
Parker was also influenced by his father in a different way.”What’s very important to me is that I imagine that my father is listening because he is not a musician,” Parker said. “He has no musical training, but he just loves it. So, I generally picture my father in the audience when I play. I imagine that people, for the most part, are listening the way he would listen to it. That’s very inspiring to me.”Parker attended Julliard, where he first met Litton, and began working his way up through the classical music ranks. He’s traveled the world, including a memorable appearance at Carnegie Hall where he got John to sign his LP “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”His travels have also taken him to lesser-known spots of Canada through the “Piano Six” program, designed to introduce music to children and adults alike. His worldwide accomplishments, as well as his work with “Piano Six,” earned him the rank of Officer of the Order of Canada 10 years ago.
Through this journey he has become steadfast friends with Litton and has performed with the maestro countless times. In fact about 15 years ago, Parker performed the “Emperor” for the first time. The conductor? Litton.”He’s a consummate orchestra leader,” Parker said. “He has a technique – he makes it look genuinely like conducting isn’t all that difficult. I know that it’s extremely difficult, but he makes it look like everyone should be able to do it. It comes out of him like water, totally natural.”Parker admires many of Litton’s qualities, including the conductor’s ability to keep playing piano, while still leading his orchestra. Saturday, Litton will be conducting a full slate of Mozart, Wagner and Ravel, including playing the latter’s “Concerto in G Major for Piano and Orchestra.””I would consider it a decent night’s work if I just played the Ravel concerto,” Parker joked. “For him to be playing and conducting the rest of the program, that’s a remarkable amount of musical capacity.”
For all involved tonight, Beethoven’s “Emperor” will take a similar form of capacity. The first movement starts with three short piano credenzas, each begun by a single chord from the orchestra. Parker describes the movement as constructing a huge building on the strength of three pillars.The transition from the first to the second movement reflects Beethoven’s transformation from a Classic to a Romantic. The melody of the movement sounds as if it were straight from a Chopin nocturne.Parker describes the final movement as “a romp.””Beethoven really didn’t care about any physical convenience for the musician,” Parker said. “He disregarded anything to do with ergonomics or well being. There are all sorts of awkward things in the third movement. It has a lot of dance in it, a glorious ending. It very much features the timpani which is one of Beethoven’s trademarks. It’s just a glorious piece.”
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One thing’s for sure, though. Parker will bring his love of music to Bravo! tonight.”I will sit down in a bar on bench with a piano that’s not even in tune and just start playing because it’s there,” he said. “I can’t really resist an opportunity to play.””… I jammed with Doc Severinson and his band once and it was a mind-boggling experience. My jazz improv abilities are very limited. That band was so tight. Their rhythm was incredible, I felt like I could do anything and they would be there. Every classical musician should have an experience like that if it’s possible.”Staff writer Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 614, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Colorado