Practising Fast in Slow Motion


That’s the word concert pianist Ian Parker expects to use the most while adjudicating the senior piano classes at this week’s Rotary Music Festival in Whitehorse.

That advice that was drummed into him by his teacher at the Julliard School of Music, Yoheved Kaplinsky.

“But what my teacher really taught was the way to approach the piano like [Artur] Rubenstein did. Rubenstein was always regarded as the only pianist that made love to the instrument and never attacked it,” the 34-yearold Parker says.

Kaplinsky’s teaching method forced her students to “hear the difference, and to notice the more luscious loveliness of the sound. It’s not playing the piano because it feels right. It’s because it sounds right,” he says.

“Piano playing has become such a physical thing—because we don’t have to play in tune, like a violin, we don’t have to breathe, like wind instruments, and we get to sit down. So we don’t really listen to the instrument very much.

“Also, for pianists, we always are alone. We don’t belong in an orchestra, we don’t belong in a trio, so we’re not listening to other people. So we’re often stuck listening to what’s in our head.”

Another bit of Kaplinsky’s wisdom Parker plans to pass on to young musicians at the festival is topractise fast… in slow motion.

“It’s about playing in a tempo that you can still do everything you’d want in performance, but at a tempo that’s comfortable and easy,” he explains.

“Once you get that comfortable, it takes no time to speed it up.”

Concert pianist, Ian Parker PHOTO: Camirand Photo

The Vancouver-born pianist, conductor and teachercomesfrom a distinguished musical family. He began his own studies at the age of three under the tutelage of hisfather, Edward Parker.

Still, he says, it wasn’t inevitable that music would become his life.

“My mother, who was also a piano teacher, made it very clear that I didn’t have to play the piano. She knew the difficulties of what it was like to make it as a performer, and how stressful it was, and she never did push me.”

Growing up, Parker did consider other career choices.

“I always had an infatuation with airplanes, so I was interested in flying,” he says.

“I even had my solo licence for a brief time in high school. I used to fly out of Boundary Bay airport. Then again, living the life of a pilot would be, in some ways, quite similar.”

Parker readily admits he has a “hectic” lifestyle, frequently travelling abroad to perform, conduct, or record—he recently recorded three Stravinsky concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra at the famous Abbey Road Studio, for example—but a nine-to-five life never appealed to him.

“The older I get, the more I’m thankful for that, because even some of my friends who are top lawyers in the top firms in Toronto and New York, they’re all very stressed-out people,” he says.

“I have an incredible amount of flexibility in my life. I also have a lot of sacrifices I’ve had to make, but the sacrifices I’ve had to make are ones that I don’t mind making.”

Parker decided to pursue music full-time after attending several summer music festivals and discovering “how much I loved working with other musicians and how I loved being surrounded by them. It became much more of a priority than what’s going to pay the bills.”

Earlier, he had been influenced by a number of piano giants, thanks to his father’s “unbelievable” collection of LP records by the likes of Emil Gilels, Vladimir Horowitz, Rubenstein, Josef Hofmann, Josef Lhévinne and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

“I got to really hear some recordings that most people don’t even have access to now.”

In his younger days, Parker confesses with a laugh, he was also interested in “the whole stardom” of being a musician.

“Horowitz, of course, was a superstar, and loved having all the motorcades and all the stuff going behind him, so I thought that was kind of fun.”

His own playing style—often described as easy-going and articulate—owes much to his father’s “Old World” sensibility as an artist.

“He really despises people who play fast and loud. He’s much more about finding the tender nuances, and taking more time with rubato, and I really love how he plays.”

In addition to his adjudicating duties, Parker will at the Yukon Arts Centre on Saturday, April 14 to present an all-Beethoven recital as part of the Whitehorse Concerts series.

“I’ve never done something like this before,” he admits.

“I always do the traditional program, starting with something really fun and light, and going into some big or experimental, then doing something familiar, and then the second half dedicated to some huge, virtuosic work.”

Parker hopes the program will have the same effect on his audience’s “stimulation gauge” that Beethoven has on his own.

“There’s something that is so beyond powerful and pure and raw about some of these particular Beethoven sonatas that I’ve chosen to play. They are so contrasting in character and style that it really is a very well-rounded program, it doesn’t feel like they’re all in one category at all.”

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