The stage lit up (if somewhat late on cue) with concert pianist Ian Parker’s ebullient entrance and immediate connection with a virtually full house — despite competition from the NFL Super Bowl — at the North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s only matinée in its diamond jubilee season.
Parker’s first of many anecdotes mentioned a message from his cousin Jamie Parker of Gryphon Trio fame. It read, “Call me before you start practising,” and introduced a tale of how Ian as a boy, having played “awfully” one evening for his piano teacher father, was commanded to practise the following morning at 8 a.m.
That following morning was Saturday and Ian knew his father left to teach at 6 a.m. Surely he wouldn’t notice if his son slept until 12 and started practising at 3 p.m. that afternoon … which was when Ian Parker saw his father’s note on the piano. It read, “Call me at my studio before you start practising.”
The story set a jovial tone that prevailed throughout the concert, although Parker’s relaxed approach informed as well as entertained when he spoke, and overwhelmed when he played.
He talked about the various sonatas in the program, beginning with Beethoven’s Opus 27 Nos. 1 and 2 sonatas quasi una fantasia which, as the titles suggest, are improvised and fantasy-like with no theme.
“They focus on emotion and harmony rather than form,” said Parker. “Loud passages often follow soft ones, perhaps because Beethoven wanted to test his hearing which was failing at the time.”
The second sonata, quasi una fantasia, apparently dubbed Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven’s publisher, established my love of classical music as a young girl when I took piano lessons. Strains of the mournful “stretched octave” trios in its first movement wafted through the hallways of the convent where I laboured over a mundane Grade 1 piece. I vowed then to play Moonlight Sonata myself some day, like so many before and after me. But I could never hope to achieve Parker’s prowess.
His fingers blurred when he played the faster movements, as they did throughout many allegros during the concert, yet they struck each note with precision and sensitivity.
Parker was joined by Vernon’s teenage prodigy, Colleen Venables, to play Igor Stravinsky’s Italian Suite for Violin and Piano. The Introduction, Serenata, Tarantella, Minuetto and Finale were taken from Stravinsky’s neoclassical ballet Pulcinella which the dancer Sergei Diaghilev had commissioned to be adapted from Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s original commedia dell’arte music.
Both musicians beamed in well- deserved triumph as they struck the final chords, and the audience beamed back, very loudly.
When he introduced George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Parker told how Gershwin had asked the Parisian, Maurice Ravel, for a lesson in orchestration as he didn’t feel adequate to the task. But when Ravel found out how much Gershwin earned in New York, he suggested Gershwin give him lessons instead. The audience needed no lesson to appreciate the brilliance of both composer and interpreter and rose to its feet when Parker brought the orchestration to life. In his words, the only sound he didn’t quite emulate was that sliding “Whaaa” from the clarinet.
Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor had the same effect in the second half. “Magical!” sighed my audience neighbour, piano teacher Lucy Feldman, when Parker coaxed the final “B” from the lower register of NOCCA’s Steinway for which, incidentally, he is helping to find a replacement.
Feldman’s comment described the whole concert, played almost entirely from memory. It put a new slant on the word “awed”ience.
We’ll get a chance to enjoy an encore when Parker opens the Okanagan Symphony’s season this fall with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.