John David Kimura Parker, OC, pianist, composer, teacher, broadcaster (born 25 December 1959 in Burnaby, BC). Jon Kimura Parker is one of the world’s most acclaimed and admired pianists. A highly charismatic performer, Parker is known for his thoughtful musicality, the beauty of his tone, his masterful technique (largely influenced by his admiration for Oscar Peterson) and his sense of humour. A dedicated educator and a founding member of Piano Six (now PianoPlus), he is artistic advisor of the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival and a professor of piano at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He has won hundreds of competitions and awards, including the CBC Talent Competition, the Leeds International Piano Competition, the Virginia P. Moore Prize and a Governor General's Performing Arts Award.
Education and Early Career
Parker made his first public appearance at the age of five, as a student of Jessie Morrison, performing First Approach to an Orchestra by Rae Perran with the Vancouver Youth Orchestra. He later studied with his uncle, Edward J. Parker, and with Robin Wood at the Victoria Conservatory of Music; Marek Jablonski at the Banff School of Fine Arts; Kum-Sing Lee at the Vancouver Academy of Music; and Adele Marcus at the Juilliard School, where he completed master's and doctoral degrees.
A frequent prize winner from a young age, Parker had won over 200 firsts in local, national and international competitions by his mid-twenties, including the S.C. Eckhardt Gramatté Competition in 1978 and the du Maurier Search for Stars in 1982. While at Juilliard, he won the Gina Bachauer Memorial Competition twice, and was guest soloist with the Juilliard Orchestra for its European tour in 1983. Also in 1983, he received the Canada Council'sVirginia P. Moore Prize and won the piano category of the CBC Talent Competition.
Parker had already come to international attention when he won the International Piano Competition in Viña del Mar, Chile, in 1982, but his win at the 1984 Leeds International Piano Competition took his career to another level, opening the door to many prestigious recital and orchestral engagements, including a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II. In 1985, the Canadian Music Council named Parker performer of the year.
Parker has appeared as soloist with many of the world's leading orchestras, including the Bergen Philharmonic, the Berlin Radio Symphony, the Bournemouth Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the National Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony, the Scottish National Orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic and Christopher Hogwood's St Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well as every major Canadian orchestra. As guest soloist, Parker has toured the Pacific Rim with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Japan with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Germany with the Royal Philharmonic, Western Canada with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and North America with the Hallé Orchestra.
As a soloist and chamber musician, Parker has appeared in some of the world's most prestigious performance series, such as the International Piano Series in London, and in premier festivals including Mostly Mozart, Blossom and Aldeburgh. His concert tours have taken him to every continent, where he has performed in venues that range from the glamorous, such as Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House, to the remote, such as those on Baffin Island and in Zimbabwe. He has performed for heads of state and dignitaries, such as the prime ministers of Canada and Japan, and members of the US Supreme Court.
He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Bobby McFerrin, Doc Severinsen and Stewart Copeland, and has performed regularly as duo partner with violinists James Ehnes and Cho-Liang Lin, cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Orli Shaham.
Parker's eclectic repertoire features the Romantics — Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Chopin — as well as a wide variety of 20th century composers including Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Samuel Barber. His recital programs have included his own transcription of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. He also likes to present works with a jazz flavour, from Scott Joplin rags to compositions and arrangements by Oscar Peterson, George Gershwin, Chick Corea and Art Tatum. His eclecticism also encompasses elements of pop culture. Much to the delight of his audiences, he has woven themes from television shows such as The Simpsons and The X Files into classical concertos or played them as encores. He has also included popular hits by such artists as Billy Joel and Alanis Morissette in his programs.
Parker also champions Canadian music and has premiered a number of works by Canadian composers: Steven Gellman’s Triptych for piano and DX7 synthesizer (1986), written for the International Year of Canadian Music; John Weinzweig’s Divertimento No. 10 for piano and orchestra (1988); and Alexina Louie’s Scenes from a Jade Terrace (1988). Parker completed his doctoral thesis, “The Solo Piano Music of Alexina Louie: A Blend of East and West,” on Louie’s work.
Composer David Duke dedicated two pieces to Parker: Etude (1981) and Piano Sonatina (1985). In 1989, the CBC commissioned Parker to compose Pan Dreams for flute and piano, which he dedicated to Marina Piccinini and Andreas Haefliger.
Parker has been lavishly praised by critics for such qualities as his "gargantuan technique, awesome timing, oceanic depth and volcanic fire," as well as his sense of humour and natural showmanship (San Antonio Express, 26 February 2000). "He is a musician of eclectic taste who treats many types of music with uncompromising integrity" (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 12 March 1999), and one for whom it is important to engage his audiences in an experience that is "welcoming and joyful" (James Reel in Fanfare, September–October 1997).
His first major recording, in 1986, was of Tchaikovsky's B-flat Major Piano Concerto and Prokofiev's Concerto No. 3 for Piano with André Previn and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Subsequent recordings include a Chopin recital, the Concerto for Two Pianos vs. Orchestra by P.D.Q. Bach with Peter Schichkele, and Samuel Barber's Piano Concerto with Yoel Levi and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Parker has become well known as a media personality. In the late 1980s, he hosted CBC Radio's Arts National and BCTV's documentary Which Way to Carnegie Hall?, which won the Gold Medal at the 1987 New York Film and Television Festival. Since then Parker has hosted two seasons of the Bravo! classical music series Whole Notes and CBC Radio 2’s five-part series Up and Coming, which showcased the talents of promising Canadian musicians. He has appeared on PBS's The Visionaries and Disney Channel's Under the Umbrella Tree, and was the subject of a 1994 episode of Adrienne Clarkson’s CBC TV documentary series Adrienne Clarkson Presents.
Parker has contributed his time and talent to many educational and humanitarian causes. On New Year's Eve 1995, he accompanied an airlift of supplies to Bosnia, where he gave two performances of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with the Sarajevo Philharmonic. He is a founding member of Piano Six (now known as PianoPlus), a group of eminent Canadian pianists dedicated to performing classical music in remote Canadian communities.
In 1999, Parker became professor of piano at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He also held the position of Dr. E. Stephen Purdom Distinguished Visiting Artist at the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University (2005–08), and continues to give master classes at the Stearns Institute, the Banff Centre, the Brevard Festival and the Julliard School. His YouTube channel contains numerous “Concerto Chats,” in which he discusses piano concertos in an educational context.
He is married to the violinist Aloysia Friedmann. His brother, Jamie Parker, and his cousin, Ian Parker, are also renowned pianists.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
First Place, S.C. Eckhardt Gramatté Competition (1978)
First Place, du Maurier Search for Stars (1982)
First Place, Viña del Mar International Piano Competition (1982)
First Place, Piano Category, CBC Talent Competition (1983)
First Place, Leeds International Piano Competition (1984)
Performer of the Year, Canadian Music Council (1985)
Officer, Order of Canada (1999)
Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal (2002)
Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012)
P.I. Tchaikovsky, Piano Concerto No. 1; Sergei Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 3, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by André Previn (1986). Telarc CD-80124.
Frédéric Chopin, Sonata No. 2, Opus 35 and 6 other pieces (1987). Telarc CD-80147.
P.D.Q. Bach, Concerto for Two Pianos vs. Orchestra: Two Pianos Are Better Than One (1994). Telarc CD-80376.
Samuel Barber, Piano Concerto, Opus 38, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Yoel Levi (1997). Telarc CD-80441.