TCHAIKOVSKY & BRAHMS
May 13, 2023
Gordon Gerrard, conductor
Ian Parker, piano
TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No.1
WIJERATNE: Polyphonic Lively
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4
Ian Parker, piano
Magnetic, easy-going, and delightfully articulate, Canadian pianist/conductor Ian Parker captivates audiences wherever he goes. As a pianist, he has appeared with top Canadian orchestras including the symphonies of Toronto, Quebec, Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Orchestre Métropolitain, and the Calgary Philharmonic. In the U.S., orchestral highlights include the San Francisco, Cincinnati, National, Santa Barbara, Richmond, and Honolulu symphonies as well as the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom, to name just a few. During the 2019/20 season, Mr. Parker will make his debuts with the Savannah and Bakersfield symphonies, and will return to the Pensacola and Okanagan symphonies, among others.
In addition to his work at the keyboard, Ian Parker is currently in his second season as music director and principal conductor of the VAM Symphony Orchestra at the Vancouver Academy of Music. Working with some of Canada’s most promising young orchestral players, Mr. Parker programs and conducts four concerts per season in Vancouver’s historic Orpheum Theatre. In July 2020 he will lead the orchestra in a 50th anniversary tour throughout China. He is also artistic director of the Resonate chamber music series at the Kay Meek Centre in North Vancouver.
An enthusiastic recitalist, Mr. Parker has performed across the United States, Europe, Israel, and throughout Canada on tours with Debut Atlantic, Jeunesses Musicales du Canada, and Piano Six. Recital highlights include the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, UCLA, the University of British Columbia, and collaborative performances at the Hawaii International Music Festival and the Morgan Library in New York City.
Mr. Parker’s recordings include a CD with the London Symphony conducted by Michael Francis featuring three piano concertos: Ravel Concerto in G, Stravinsky Capriccio, and Gershwin Concerto in F, released by ATMA Classique, and an all-fantasy solo CD including fantasies of Chopin, Schumann, and Beethoven on Azica Records. Additionally, CBC Records released a recording of three Mozart concertos for one piano (K. 467), two pianos (K. 365), and three pianos (K. 242) featuring Mr. Parker and his two cousins, Jon Kimura Parker and Jamie Parker, with the CBC Radio Orchestra and Mario Bernardi on the podium.
First Prize winner at the 2001 CBC National Radio Competition, Ian Parker has also won the Grand Prize at the Canadian National Music Festival, the Corpus Christie International Competition and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Competition. At The Juilliard School, he received the 2002 William Petschek Piano Debut Award and, on two occasions, was the winner of the Gina Bachauer Piano Scholarship Competition. Heard regularly on CBC Radio, he has also performed live on WQXR (hosted by Robert Sherman) in New York.
Born in Vancouver to a family of pianists, Mr. Parker began his piano studies at age three with his father, Edward Parker. He holds both the Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from The Juilliard School, where he was a student of Yoheved Kaplinsky. While at Juilliard, he was awarded the Sylva Gelber Career Grant by the Canada Council for the Arts, presented annually to the “most talented Canadian artist.”
TCHAIKOVSKY, PYOTR ILYICH (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 TH 55
One of the most beloved and iconic composers of the Romantic era, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s relatively short life was marked by tragedy and trauma. Tchaikovsky’s lifelong mental health challenges were precipitated by an early separation from his mother, who died a few years after he was sent to boarding school, and were intensified by living in a society where being gay was considered shameful.
Piano Concerto No. 1 preceded Tchaikovsky’s three famous ballets, Swan Lake (1877), The Sleeping Beauty (1889), and The Nutcracker (1892), and its eventual success was hard-won and bittersweet. The first version was shown to one of Tchaikovsky’s dearest friends, pianist Nikolai Rubinstein (1835-1881), whose immediate feedback was harsh and ruthless. Crestfallen, Tchaikovsky then approached German pianist Hans von Bülow (1830-1894), who premiered the work in Boston, United States, under the baton of Benjamin Johnson Lang. Rubinstein later retracted his criticism and went on to champion the work until his death.
Tchaikovsky composed Piano Concerto No. 1 over the winter of 1874-1875, a period during which he was exploring relationships with women, including soprano Désirée Artôt (1835-1907), who may have inspired some of his compositions including this concerto. In 1877, he was briefly and disastrously married to his former student Antonina Miliukova (1848-1917); upon the collapse of their relationship, Tchaikovsky fled Russia.
During the composer’s years abroad, financed by his confidant and patron, railway heiress Nadezhda von Meck (1831-1894), public perception in Russia of his music changed for the better, and prestigious opportunities arose upon his return in the early 1880s. Tchaikovsky’s works have long been regarded as a conscious reconciliation of a thoroughly Russian style, including folk music, and the artistic ideals of classical music being written in Western Europe at the time.
Piano Concerto No. 1 was revised by the composer several times; the final version, completed in 1888 features the memorable opening octave chords in the solo piano part, likely the contribution of Russian pianist Alexander Siloti (1863-1945). The orchestral introduction is characterized by a lyrical and plangent melody in Db major, the relative major key. This would have been surprising to 19th century ears, especially since this theme never reappears. Cleverly inserted throughout the concerto are four folksongs, including two Ukrainian songs: Oi, kriache, kriache, ta y chornenkyi voron and Vyidy, vyidy, Ivanku.
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 continues to have cultural resonance in the 21st century. Following the recent doping scandal in Russian sports, most Russian athletes were banned for two years from all major sporting competitions. A handful of individuals were, however, cleared to compete in the 2020 and 2022 Olympics on behalf of the Russian Olympic and Paralympic Committees. Athletes winning a gold medal were celebrated on the podium with an excerpt of Piano Concerto No. 1 in lieu of the Russian National Anthem. The work was also played as part of the closing ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
Program Notes by Tamsin Lorraine Johnston
WIJERATNE, DINUK (b. 1978)
Polyphonic Lively (2016)
Pol·y·phon·ic (adj.) – many-voiced, [music] composed of relatively independent melodic lines or parts.
Live·ly (adj.) – full of life or vigour.
“While browsing through a library book of very vibrant artwork by Paul Klee, the 20th century Swiss-German master, I was struck by the title of one of the paintings: ‘Polyphonic Lively‘. Though the two adjectives back-to-back suggest that something may have been lost in translation, I felt compelled to turn these very vivid and evocative words into music. They immediately conjured up high-vibration, high-intensity ‘chatter’, and also seemed nicely suited to the celebratory nature of an orchestra’s season opener.
Music, as a communicative medium, offers unique and wonderful opportunities for stacking contrasting ideas – for ‘polyphony’. As a composer I like to explore the possibility that musical voices, each conveying an idea that is either supportive or subversive, can be allowed to coexist in a way that often eludes us in today’s world. The nature of ‘Polyphonic Lively‘ is character-driven and, through sharp turns and decisive action, its ‘journey’ is simply what the characters make of it. Its musical fabric is a multiplicity of voices, lines, and themes that decide – on a whim – when to coalesce and coexist.”
Program Notes by Dinuk Wijeratne, composer
BRAHMS, JOHANNES (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98
Johannes Brahms was born into a musical family in Hamburg, where his father, Johann Jakob Brahms (1806-1872), sometimes spelled Bram or Brahmst, was a successful working musician. Although the Brahms family was decidedly middle-class, Brahms and his brother Fritz received musical training early on in life and both went on to pursue careers as musicians.
While Brahms is best remembered for his compositions, his career writing music was slow to take off. Instead, his introduction to musical circles was facilitated by two important friendships with violinists Ede Reményi (1828-1898) and Joseph Joachim (1831-1907). Collaborating with these two musicians throughout the 1850s provided the young Brahms with an income as a pianist, the opportunity to meet the most successful working composers in the region, and a lifelong source of inspiration for composition, demonstrated by his most popular works Hungarian Dances (1869 & 1880).
In 1853 in Düsseldorf, Brahms met Robert (1810-1856) and Clara Schumann (1819-1896) on Joachim’s endorsement. At the time, Robert Schumann had encountered many setbacks as well as successes in his multifaceted musical career of performing, composing, conducting, and writing about music. Upon hearing Brahms’ compositions, Schumann declared in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (“New Journal for Music”) that the twenty-year-old’s budding career was “fated to give expression to the times in the highest and most ideal manner”. Although Brahms’ perfectionism and anxiety about the very public praise is well-documented, Schumann’s subsequent mentorship did give him the confidence to start publishing works under his own name.
By the late 1870s, Brahms was in his forties and prepared to unveil his first symphony, opus 68 in C minor, followed by a number of other orchestral works including opus 77, the gorgeous and unforgettable violin concerto. Around this time, Brahms also made the decision to forgo his youthful, clean-shaven appearance in favour of the substantial and iconic grey beard that is prominently featured in most surviving images of the composer. Thoughtfully preparing his social circle for his new look, Brahms is said to have written in a letter to Bernhard Scholz (1835-1916) “I am coming with a large beard! Prepare your wife for a most awful sight!”.
Symphony No. 4, Brahms’ final symphonic work, was premiered in 1885 in the town of Meiningen, in the German state of Thuringia. While Brahms’ veneration for his predecessors Beethoven and Bach is evident in all of his orchestral compositions, and Symphony No. 4 is no exception, particularly in its final movement, the work does contain a handful of unique features. It is the only one of Brahms’ symphonies to conclude in the minor mode, giving the piece a dark and portentous character. However, playfulness and humour had an equally tenacious grip on Brahms’ character even in the last years of his life. A highlight of the joyful third movement is a solo for triangle, an instrument that found its way into the orchestra during the 18th century. Famously, the triangle was also employed by Beethoven in his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, opus 125, his final symphonic work for orchestra, soloists, and chorus.