Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jackie Parker’s one-person rendition of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” rocks the Kasbah

Jon Kimura Parker showcased a wide-ranging program, delivering a taste of the East with Alexina Louie’s “Scenes from a Jade Terrace” and a sampling of the West with Robert Schumann’s “Carnaval.” But it was Parker’s own arrangement of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” that created a wow factor on Sunday afternoon at the Newmark Theatre as part of Portland Piano International’s recital series. Parker’s intense and intelligent playing and all-around virtuoso technique re-created the entire atmosphere of Stravinsky’s hymn to pagan times.

I heard Parker play this piece a few years ago at the World Forestry Center and what struck me was its forcefulness. This time I was more impressed with how Parker always brought out the leading theme of each movement and how clearly I could hear all of the sound in the Newmark. After ending the first part like a possessed madman, Parker created an atmosphere of mystery at the beginning of the second part and gradually increased the tension, keeping a firm hand on the throttle. The jagged, jarring, and at times brutal rhythmic drive became almost hypnotic. Parker at times rocked back and forth and so did his assisting page turner.

Wild applause erupted at the end of the piece, although I got the feeling that part of the audience just doesn’t like Stravinsky’s music not matter how brilliantly it is played. They may have been confused by Alexina Louie’s “Scenes from a Jade Terrace,” which Parker commissioned in 1987 when he was 28 years old. This piece contains some intriguing tone clusters, especially a blur of notes in the bass that create a hollow, ghostly sound. Parker also quickly reached into the piano to strum the strings, which added an atmosphere of awe to the “Warrior” and “Memories in an Ancient Garden” movements.

Parker superbly played Schumann’s “Carnaval,” creating a separate mood for each scene. Whether noble, silly, wild, or serene, Parker conveyed it all marvelously.

I was unable to stay for the encore, which I found from Harold Gray’s blog was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Prelud in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5.

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