Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, January 7, 1999

Jon Kimura Parker: "I believe
classical music deserves to have some sense
of dignity, but it shouldn't be stuffy.'

Mozart meets
‘X-Files’: Pianist
will try anything

By Tim Ryan


No way is Jon Kimura Parker your typical concert pianist.

Consider this: he once performed in a complete "Star Trek: The Next Generation" outfit -- including pointy ears -- and proclaimed Minneapolis "the final frontier." During the same concert, Parker and three other performers put on Viking helmets and blond braids, then played a four-piano arrangement of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries."

Oh, there's more.

While performing the Mozart K.466 d minor Concerto in Australia, Parker slipped in the "X-Files" theme song. Most of the orchestra quietly went into hysterics; most of the audience had no idea that anything had happened, he remembered.

So audiences never quite know what exactly to expect when Parker performs, as he will Sunday and Tuesday with the Honolulu Symphony at the "Blessedly" Concert Hall.

"I believe classical music deserves to have some sense of dignity, but shouldn't be stuffy," he said in a telephone interview from Lanai's Lodge at Koele, where he performed the first of his Hawaii concerts.

"A lot of people are afraid to go to classical music concerts because they think it's going to be an intimidating cultural experience and won't enjoy or understand it."

Parker, who sometimes plays a jazz piece in encores, believes all music should be "a very joyful experience."

"I don't perform concerts for musicians but for the audience," he said.

For his performances with the Honolulu Symphony, Parker has chosen a piece not so popular with pianists: Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 25.

"It's the kind of concerto that goes in and out of fashion," he said. "The Mendelssohn is a very beautiful piece. Mendelssohn hits people directly; it doesn't require analysis like a Beethoven does. There's an immediacy that I really enjoy."

Born, raised, and educated in Vancouver, Parker performs as many as 100 concerts a year. He's given two command performances for Queen Elizabeth II, and has performed for the prime ministers of Canada and Japan, the United States Supreme Court, and in Carnegie Hall (with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, the Warsaw Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra).

He's also toured the Canadian Arctic as part of "Piano Six" performing the music of Beethoven, Chopin, Nirvana and Alanis Morissette on an electronic keyboard for more than 1,000 Inuit school students; jammed with Doc Severinsen and the original "Tonight Show" orchestra; and given an impromptu concert at the Victoria Falls Hotel while on safari in Zimbabwe.

"I love to be on stage and I mean that in a sharing, giving sense, not egomaniacal."

"Jackie" Parker began training at age 4 with his uncle, Edward Parker, with daily coaching from his mother Keiko Parker. Eventually he was admitted to The Juilliard School on full scholarship as a student of Adele Marcus.

Ernest Chang photo
Jon Kimura Parker, right, is joined by his
"uncle figure," local teacher Ernest Chang.

And it was at Juilliard where Parker met Hawaii pianist and teacher, Ernest Chang. "He's my uncle figure whenever I come to Honolulu and the premier piano teacher in Hawaii," Parker said.

The pair studied under the same teacher at Juilliard, though 16 years apart. Parker conducts master's classes at Chang's Makiki studio when he's in Honolulu.

Classical music was Parker's choice from the beginning of his training. "Classical music is fuller in its emotional range. You can say anything with classical music."

Which brings Parker back to the concept of stuffiness. "Many classical musicians are so serious about it they kind of forget that the whole act of performing is to communicate the music to an audience," he said.

Parker always tries to keep his nonmusician father in mind while performing. "He absolutely loves music and I always want to experience music through his ears. I have perfect pitch, and training up to the doctoral level; I know too much. My father experiences music on a very emotional basic level, which is, I think, how it should be."


In concert

Bullet Pianist Jon Kimura Parker: Plays Mendelssohn with the Honolulu Symphony; Samuel Wong conducts; also performing, mezzo-soprano Florence Quivar and tenor Anthony Dean Griffey

Bullet Showtime: 4 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Bullet Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall

Bullet Tickets: $15 to $50

Bullet Information: 988-8863

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