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Sunday, December 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Symphony opener topped by Parker playing piano concerto

Jon Kimura Parker will perform the Grieg Piano Concerto as part of the Spokane Symphony’s season-opening weekend.
Jon Kimura Parker will perform the Grieg Piano Concerto as part of the Spokane Symphony’s season-opening weekend.

For the Spokane Symphony’s opening concerts this weekend, we have a harmonious match of man and music: Jon Kimura Parker playing the Grieg Piano Concerto.

Among the connections:

• It was the first concerto Parker was ever paid to play, back in his youth in Vancouver, B.C. – well before he became known as one of his country’s top classical artists.

• A year after that Vancouver concert, he played it with the Boston Pops, and still remembers the thrill of sitting onstage and “hearing that tympani roll and getting ready to play that first cascade of octaves and chords.”

• He has performed it in Grieg’s native land, with the Oslo Philharmonic. He said it was an uncommon experience of “playing a concerto with an orchestra that knows it better than you.”

• To top it all off, he has played it on Edvard Grieg’s own piano.

In a phone interview this week, Parker said he was traveling near Bergen, Norway, when he came across a Grieg museum, in what was once the composer’s seaside retreat.

“I saw one of Grieg’s pianos behind a roped-off area, with signs that said, ‘Do not touch,’ ” said Parker. “And I said to the woman, ‘I’d love to try the piano.’ ”

She said no, no, no. Nobody can touch the piano.

So he dug through his bag and found a notice that proved he was the guy playing the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Oslo Philharmonic. The woman’s tune changed. She said yes, yes, yes. Of course you can play the piano!

“So I tried the piano, and it was great,” said Parker.

As he played, he looked onto the fjord and realized that one particular Grieg signature harmony – a subdominant minor chord – “just sort of fits the scenery.”

“I don’t know what it is about Grieg, but this theme just sounds Norwegian,” he said.

Parker is Canadian, raised in Vancouver. He headed off to New York to attend Juilliard School at age 19, earned his doctorate there and embarked on a successful concert career.

He has played with many of the great orchestras and in 1999 was named to the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honors, awarded for a lifetime of achievement and merit.

Parker now lives in Houston and teaches at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. However, he returns to the Northwest often.

He and his wife, Aloysia Friedmann, spend their summers on the San Juan Islands at the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival. Friedmann is its founder and artistic director.

Parker’s performance is only one element in what the symphony is billing as its “Fantastique Opening” under the baton of Music Director Eckart Preu. The other major work will be the “Symphonie Fantastique” by Hector Berlioz, one of the landmark works of the Romantic era.

It’s a narrative symphony, telling the dramatic story of a young artist who is both deeply in love and deeply poisoned by opium. It is, most likely, a Berlioz self-portrait.

The concerts will begin with the fast and lively Enesco’s Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1.

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