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Parker Played it Rite
Jon Kimura Parker may look a bit nerdy, but wait until he commands the keys with virtuosity.

by Christian Gentry

t would be difficult to come up with a better end to the Virtuoso Series season. Guest pianist Jon Kimura Parker provided a splendid performance to complete the talent-packed concert season. His incredible showmanship, coupled with a fine-tuned attention to detail, are indelible stamps upon his already illustrious career as a concert pianist.

The repertoire ranged from the crafty classicism of Mozart to the austere ostentatiousness of Stravinsky. Also included were some works of Schubert and a clever arrangement of music from “The Wizard of Oz” by Hirtz. The variety of music performed showed Parker’s ability to switch between styles of music flawlessly. It was almost as if each piece were played by a different pianist.

Parker would play a Mozart Fantasia without difficulty or bravado. Yet after the applause, he would switch gears into virtuosic drive to play Schubert or Stravinsky. Parker took every pain necessary to churn out the beautiful melodies of Mozart and Schubert without bleeding them out with excessive use of pedal. Libby Gardner Hall is a “live” hall where the sound decay is rather long. Parker utilized this rich sound by pedaling judiciously throughout all of the pieces.

The concert as a whole was well-programmed, well-conceived and well-played. Yet the concert should have ended after the brilliant performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” (“Le sacre du printemps”).

Of course, “Rite of Spring” is a hot topic as of late in the Salt Lake City arts scene. Ballet West is performing this monumental work this weekend for the first time in years. “Rite of Spring” went into the annals of music history as one of the most controversial ballets of all time. During its Paris premiere in 1913, riots ensued inside and outside the theatre. In fact, the sound of the screaming and fighting audience made it difficult for Stravinsky to conduct the pit orchestra.

Stravinsky escaped unscathed despite many threats, obviously since the premiere, “Rite of Spring” became one of the defining orchestral works of the early 20th century, if not the whole century. Stravinsky himself composed the work from a two-piano, four-hand arrangement. This arrangement is often used in recitals today. There were many attempts made to transcribe the orchestral giant for a solo piano. Attempts they were, but failed attempts nonetheless.

Failed attempts, that is, until the Canadian Parker recently transcribed and performed one of the most excellent renditions of “Rite of Spring” around. It almost rivals Stravinsky’s own two-piano, four-hand arrangement. Being familiar with the “Rite of Spring” almost to a point where I can go through the whole work in my sleep, I had several expectations. Parker did not miss a beat, a theme, a gesture, a mood or the general feeling of the masterwork. It was breathtaking. Even in the sections of the piece where the orchestration calls for a bass drum, Parker did not simply leave that gesture out because of the impossibility of the piano sounding like a bass drum. Rather, Parker would hit a heavy cluster in the low register of the piano. The piece required an incredible amount of energy and endurance that is often requisite for a large-scale piano concerto. But, in the case of a concerto, the piano is still just one instrument. Parker transformed the piano into a full orchestra.
The subsequent pieces were clearly overshadowed by the riotous “Rite.”

Nevertheless, Parker provided an astonishing climax and curtain call to the 2003-2004 Virtuoso Series Season.

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