Jon Kimura Parker closes the Steinway Piano Series
Think you know Stravinsky’s masterpiece “The Rite of Spring,” which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year?
Don’t answer so fast, classical music fans: Pianist Jon Kimura Parker, who performs Sunday afternoon in Corvallis, suggests you journey back to the origins of the famed piece, which sparked controversy and outrage during its first performances.
Parker, who will be performing his own piano transcription of “The Rite of Spring” during the concert, notes that Stravinsky wrote much of the piece on a piano — in point of fact, he said, on an upright piano.
And, he argues, playing “The Rite of Spring” on one piano highlights the rhythmic thrust of the piece in a way that sometimes can elude an orchestra.
“Orchestras by nature are a little lumbering when you’re trying to get that rhythm out very quickly,” he said in an interview.
“The Rite of Spring” is a highlight of a concert that has a strong Russian flavor: Also on the program are Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 3 and Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Minor.
Parker, who grew in up in Vancouver, B.C. and now teaches at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, said his sheer love for “The Rite of Spring” meant that “I desperately wanted to play it.” Research led him to an arrangement Stravinsky himself prepared for four-hand piano – but that was intended primarily for rehearsals of the ballet.
Nevertheless, Parker said that listeners of his transcription will hear the piece in a new light – and it is, as he said, “a piece that has a little bit of everything.”
Parker’s new CD – which could be available in time for this weekend’s concert – features the transcription of “Rite of Spring” along with a similar transcription of another Stravinsky ballet, “Petrushka.”
The other pieces on the program all are by famous Russian composers, but Parker sees something else tying them together: “I’d say the one thing that binds the whole concert together is rhythm.”
Parker has spent a good part of his career as an evangelist of sorts for classical music: In addition to a full schedule of concert appearances and his teaching duties, he has hosted a television series, “Whole Notes,” about classical music and has frequently presented lectures and recitals in remote parts of Canada.
He dates that drive back to his youth, watching Arthur Rubinstein perform in Vancouver: “When Rubenstein performed, I felt it was a personal experience. … He was showing me what he loved about the music.”
And not only does Parker try to get some of that across in his performances, he insists that his students at Rice be able to “walk out on stage and talk to an audience about something that they’re about to play.”
The goal, he said: “Make the experience one in which everyone feels invited to experience the music.” •