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For the love of a Hamburg Steinway
In 1836, German cabinet and piano maker Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg built his first piano in the kitchen of his home.
Many more pianos followed.
After moving to New York City more than a decade later, Steinweg changed the family name to Steinway and started the company Steinway & Sons with his offspring in Manhattan.
The rest, as they say, is history.
One of the most respected instrument manufacturers, a Steinway & Sons-made piano attracts many aficionados, including collectors and performers.
Canadian-born pianist Ian Parker is one of those fans.
About to perform the third concert of the North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s 60th anniversary season, the Juilliard-trained concert soloist owns not one, but two Steinway concert grands (he also owns a rare red, gold and black Bösendorfer) and has visited the Steinway factories in New York City, where he calls home for half the year when not in Vancouver, and in Hamburg, Germany.
In the same way that certain high-powered sports drinks endorse extreme athletes, Parker is represented by Steinway, joining the likes of Cole Porter, Billy Joel, Diana Krall and Rachmaninoff, who have all played the company’s pianos at one time. In fact, all the famed piano-playing Parkers, including Ian’s cousins Jon Kimura Parker and Jamie Parker (of the Gryphon Trio) play Steinways.
You could say that Parker is as obsessed with Steinways as much as he is with a slow-cooked gourmet meal.
“Just as you would get offended if someone goes to a concert and talks on their cell phone, it’s the same thing when going to a nice restaurant and shoving down the food. It should be enjoyed and taken slowly. I believe the piano should be the same thing,” said Parker.
Parker’s tastes tend to swerve towards Germany when it comes to pianos.
He has a special attachment to the Hamburg-built Steinway, and will once again be performing on the nine-foot concert grand Hamburg that is housed in the Vernon Performing Arts Centre.
According to the NOCCA, which is bringing Parker back to Vernon by popular request, the musician doesn’t perform “on” the piano, he plays “with” it.
“The association’s Hamburg Steinway has never been in better hands,” reads the NOCCA’s program notes.
This will be Parker’s third time playing the piano, which has a long history.
It was manufactured in 1887, reconditioned in the 1950s and subsequently purchased by NOCCA from the Steinway factory in Hamburg, Germany in 1954.
It was rebuilt by Peachland technician and piano restoration expert Marinus van Prattenburg more than 10 years ago, and according to some, has seen better days.
“I look forward to playing it again,” said Parker, adding, “I’ve been helping (NOCCA president) Paul Maynes to find a new piano for the association. I am often tripping on a few of these gorgeous instruments on my travels. It would be a full-out, nine-foot concert grand.”
Parker obtained his latest concert grand while performing on it at the Steinway Hall in London.
“It happened when I was not looking for it,” he said. “It is very different. It has this amazing character. Each piano has a different personality. You see that when it comes out of the assembly line.
“When I’ve gone to both the Steinway factories, I’ve watched them work on the new ones. All the work is meticulous and they each have different practices. Hamburg is most impressive. You can hear them yelling across the room when they are not satisfied with a component. They make an exceptional product.”
Those who attend Parker’s concert in Vernon will see the old Hamburg Steinway get quite the work out.
Although the selections for the Vernon show were not finalized by press time, Parker says he will perform Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which he explains is not a sonata in the traditional sense, where the movements feature the melody mutated with the chorus.
“It’s instead like a set of revolving fantasies... It’s why Moonlight is so popular,” said Parker. “It’s his most famous sonata but it’s like Bach’s Toccata and Fugue (in D minor). Most people don’t know the whole piece, but only know the first few lines. When you get out of over-saturated markets, you need to hear the whole piece. It is a whole new journey to experience.”
And like the above description, Parker is happy to share background information on how the music speaks to him as a performer.
“I do love to explain a piece verbally for myself as much as the audience to get a good impression. I learn more the second or third time I tell the story about the music. I tend to enjoy it a lot better when I can demonstrate what the composer may have been thinking or feeling,” he said.
“The magic of a concert is unlike those perfect performances on CD. You cannot come up with electrifying moments in an empty room. The colour, the blending happens when the audience is with you sharing the intensity. It is very much my aim to feel that on the receiving end.”
Those attending the NOCCA show will get an extra dollop of musical magic when 17-year-old Armstrong violin protegée Colleen Venables joins Parker for part of the program.
The next NOCCA concert with Parker is a matinée only performance, Feb. 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $35/adult and $17.50/student at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.