NACO tour blog 7: If it’s Sunday it must be Saskatoon

JKP with NACO violinist and buddy Mark Friedman

Saskatoon, SK

We are officially on the final stretch, having played in Calgary two nights ago and Regina last night, with Saskatoon tonight and Winnipeg, our final concert, tomorrow night.

There are signs. After last night’s concert in Regina, several of the players walked offstage looking slightly stunned. The hotel bar was a little quieter than usual at midnight. There’s a little less chatter and little more napping on the busses and planes.

And of course, the number one telltale sign that we’re near the end of an orchestra tour: it’s becoming obvious to anyone who looks – or smells – closely, that none of us have had a chance to launder or dry clean our clothes for some time. You can really tell if an orchestra is at the beginning or end of a tour by checking out their wrinkled tails and dresses onstage. (In case you were wondering who the best-dressed orchestra is, it’s the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Their secret? Thousands of local and inexpensive tailors in the nearby streets of Kowloon.) Continue reading

NACO tour blog 6: Paying it Forward

Pinchas Zukerman & JKP

Calgary, Alberta

I grew up in Vancouver, a hotbed of musical talent. I recall my youth as a swirl of piano lessons, Kiwanis festivals, student recitals, and absolutely no hockey.

One occasional feature of growing up in a musical world was taking part in master classes. The most memorable for me was in 1977, when the internationally renowned violin soloist Pinchas Zukerman came to town to give a class at the Vancouver Academy of Music. I was seventeen at the time.

I played the Fauré A Major Violin Sonata with a colleague for Mr. Zukerman’s class. Master classes are a strange mix of performances and public lessons. The students play a work, and then the esteemed soloist critiques your performance in front of the audience. One hopes that they will be gentle in their comments. Continue reading

NACO tour blog 5: Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4

Working with Lucy Chang: Beethoven 4

Kamloops, B.C.

What is it about this concerto that makes it so difficult?

I’m experiencing this enigmatic and beautiful work from both sides: I am performing it with both James Judd and Pinchas Zukerman and the National Arts Centre Orchestra on tour, and I am currently teaching it to one of my advanced students, Lucy Chang, at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston.

I first heard about “Beethoven 4” when I was a teenager. Older pianists would say “Beethoven 4 is impossible to understand,” or “Don’t think about playing it until you’re in your 40s,” or “It’s much too dangerous to play it in a competition,” and so on.

These comments intimidated me enough that I postponed learning it until I was out of school. Continue reading

NACO Tour blog 4: Beethoven at Midnight

Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4Kamloops, B.C.

What a day! I woke up in Vancouver, spent the afternoon giving a master class at the Victoria Conservatory, and at 10:22pm touched down in Kamloops. For a moment I could imagine what it might be like to be on a political campaign. (No, thanks…)

The National Arts Centre Orchestra performed in Victoria tonight, and arrives in Kamloops tomorrow. I had the night off, and chose to come here early for one reason: to try the piano ahead of time, and in peace and quiet.

“Peace and quiet” is hard to come by on a concert day, when a stage crew is unloading an entire orchestra’s worth of bass instruments, chairs, stands, music, conductor’s podium, etc at 4pm for an 8pm concert, and the piano technician is simultaneously desperate for his or her access to the piano.

So this explains why I am arriving at the Sagebrush Theatre to rehearse at 11:45pm. Continue reading

NACO tour blog 3: Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

JKP and Alexina Louie

Whitehorse, Yukon

I admit that I planned this from the start. The temptation was too great.

You see, there is one thing that performers usually can’t do when faced with, say, a “missing” accent in a Beethoven sonata, an inconsistent articulation in a Brahms Intermezzo, or the “obvious” typo of a trill to the white key instead of the black key in a Mozart concerto.

We can’t ask the composer what they really meant. We can only guess, and often the most educated guesses disagree. Beethoven, in particular, causes problems because he often made a point of deviating from simple repetition when similar musical material reappears. One could even say that the very nature of artistic creation is to avoid the obvious and to be unpredictable.

Not to mention that this isn’t jazz, where printed material, if necessary at all, would be a mere starting point. This is classical music, where the score is king. You cannot imagine how capable we are of fussing over these tiny questions. Continue reading

NACO tour blog 2: Robert Service redux

Air North touches down

Whitehorse, Yukon

National Arts Center Orchestra

Western Canada Tour

“A concert by NACO on tour”

In homage to my favorite Robert Service poem

“The Shooting of Dan McGrew.”

A bunch of the players were tuning it up in the Yukon Arts Centre hall; The guys that handle the stage and the props weren’t tired one bit, not at all; In front of the band and ready to solo, a Steinway looked just like the brochure; All seen by a crowd that sold out to be wowed by a concert by NACO on tour. Continue reading

NACO tour blog 1: Embarrassed in Prince George

JKP and James Judd

Prince George, BC

I am in Prince George and I am embarrassed. Of course I am thrilled to be beginning my set of performances with the National Arts Centre Orchestra on this leg of our Western Canada tour.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Twenty years ago I came to play a recital in Prince George, and told the recital presenter how much I was looking forward to my first performance here. “But you played here three years ago,” she said. “No,” I replied, “You’re probably thinking of my brother Jamie.” That night, she brought proof: the program from my recital three years earlier. It was the first time that I had forgotten performing somewhere, and as I said, I’m still embarrassed. Continue reading

Orchestra’s surprising encore a perfect fit

REVIEW  |  07.24.08  | Philadelphia Inquirer

Choosing an encore can be a squidgy business, and on a night such as Tuesday at the Mann Center, with the air still vibrating from a voluble Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, pianist Jon Kimura Parker offered exactly what was least expected: a quiet Joplin rag called Solace.

It was a risk. The Mann’s lawns were thickly populated for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s annual all-Tchaikovsky program and fireworks – or rather, fireworks and all-Tchaikovsky – and crowds were already milling about when Parker started his encore.

But Solace‘s contemplation, it turns out, was just what this moment needed. For three or four minutes, a bittersweet rag served as a compelling foil to the brass fanfares and cannon blasts of the rest of the evening. Continue reading

For One Night, a Feeling of Caramoor on the Seine

Alisa Weilerstein, Cello

REVIEW  |  06.23.08  |  The New York Times

Almost as soon as American music was weaned of its early dependency on German models it developed an adolescent crush on France. George Gershwin, of course, celebrated the allure of Paris. The relationship was consummated by the influential pedagogue Nadia Boulanger and her distinguished line of American students, chief among them Aaron Copland.

Inspired by this historical connection, pieces by Gershwin, Copland, Leonard Bernstein and the French composer Gabriel Fauré – grandfathered in for having taught Boulanger – were strung together for the opening concert of the Caramoor International Music Festival on Saturday night. The title of the program, “Americans in Paris,” was something of a stretch given the pieces included.

There was a more significant theme lurking in this performance by the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, though admittedly one not as readily adapted for a gala dinner and post-concert party. Of the three soloists, two – the cellist Alisa Weilerstein and the clarinetist Igor Begelman – were students in Rising Stars, Caramoor’s mentor program, founded in 1992 as a way for promising young players to work with seasoned professionals. The third, the pianist Jon Kimura Parker, was a Rising Stars mentor. Continue reading

Jeewon Lee wins Audience Choice Award at Ima Hogg Competition

By CHARLES WARD Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

June 8, 2008, 1:49AM

// //

// The Audience Choice award, totaling $750, was given to Korean pianist Jeewon Lee.

Lee, conductor Thomas Wilkins and the orchestra certainly made Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 enjoyable again. (Absence from warhorses for a while does make them fresher on rehearing.)

There was some pretty stirring excitement at times, as well as stretches of routine work. The interpretation and performance were very respectable and they obviously impressed a lot of people in the audience and listening on KUHF-88.7 FM (they voted online). Hence the Audience Choice award.


"Jon Kimura Parker...Has never performed as intimately and imaginatively in Portland as he did Sunday. Parker played like a one-man orchestra, calling forth different colors and textures as the music required."
-The Oregonian


"Fantasy is not just a technical showcase, but a big, clear picture window of a musician with a rich soul and great artistic depth. It is also a fantastic example of programming that entertains as well as edifies.”
-Musical Toronto

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