Michael Parker

Michael (Philip) Parker, composer, violist, classicist (born 13 February 1948 in Toronto, ON; died 8 April 2017 in Halifax, NS). BA classics (Toronto) 1971, MA classics (Toronto) 1972, PH D (McMaster) 1991.

Michael Parker studied violin privately with John Montague and then viola at the Royal Conservatory of Music, again with Montague. He attended the Banff School of Fine Arts in 1964 and Michigan State University in 1965, and was a member of the National Youth Orchestra in 1966 and 1969. He played viola 1972-76 with ARRAY, and was principal viola 1976-77 with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra. At Sir Wilfred Grenfell College of Memorial University in Corner Brook, he taught classical studies 1977-2007. He also taught violin and viola extension courses 1976-84 for Memorial University. Parker became a major figure in the music community of Newfoundland and a champion of composers from Eastern Canada, and he himself composed in an individual style. Following his retirement, he settled in Halifax.

Compositions and Recordings

Michael Parker was self-taught as a composer. His association with ARRAY initiated his interest, and a number of his early works were performed in ARRAY concerts (Remembrances 1972, rev 1974; Olympians XIV 1973; Five Songs, 1975). His professional training as a classicist and his interest in ancient Greek poetry are evident in his earliest works. His music shows a tendency toward thick textures and harmonies without a firm tonal centre, and his structures use large segments to develop his material. However, it is his inclusion of other elements, whether Greek texts (Olympians 1973, Bacchae 1983), folksong verse and text (Aria for Medium Voice & Piano 1979, Five Newfoundland Folksongs 1986), or Indigenous folklore (Shanadithit 1983), that brings the greatest individuality to his work. In Bacchae, Parker uses primitive Greek text in what might be close to its use in ancient times, set over music of an eastern character. Shanadithit uses both imitations and quotations of J.S. Bach in a work that commemorates the last of the Beothuk, the Aboriginal inhabitants of the island of Newfoundland.

In the late 1980s, Michael Parker's attraction to neo-Romanticism came to full bloom in works such as In The Late Wind Of Death (1987) and Requiem Parentibus (1986). Not forsaking his characteristic heavy textures and large forms, he allowed his emotions to become central to the meaning and content of the works. Parker's Missa Silvatica, Missa Brevis No. 1 (1981) won the 1981 competition for Newfoundland choral composers; it was published by Waterloo (1983) and recorded by the Memorial University of Newfoundland Chamber Choir (1983, Waterloo WR-8027). The York Winds recorded his 1975 composition Cholê (RCI 582; a winner in the 1975-76 CBC Radio National Competition for Young Composers); and Shanadit was recorded in 1987 by an instrumental ensemble directed by Stephen Pederson (Atlantic Canadian Composers' Association ACCA-1987). Neachora, a CBC commission, won first prize in Newfoundland's Arts and Letters Competition of 1979.

In 1997 Michael Parker released the CD LYRE, which consisted of seven chamber works for clarinet; it was later nominated for an East Coast Music Award. He was commissioned by Music Canada 2000 and the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra to write an opera to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the Viking arrival in Newfoundland. The result was Parker's largest work to date, a full opera entitled The Visitor, the concert version of which was premiered in Corner Brook on 22 September 2000 and in St. John's the following day. His chamber work In Memoriam has been performed by Duo Concertante many times across Canada and recorded on their album Of Heart and Homeland. In October 2007, Elena Braslavsky and Jeremy Findlay premiered Ithaka (2007) for cello and piano (based on a poem by Greek poet Constantine Cavafy). Parker's music has been played throughout Canada and in Holland, England, France and the United States by artists such as Lawrence Cherney, Erica Goodman, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony, and the Minneapolis Symphony.

Michael Parker was an associate of the Canadian Music Centre and a member of the Canadian League of Composers and the Atlantic Canadian Composers' Association.

Selected Works

Remembrances, Op. 13. Soprano, viola, cello, and percussion. 1972. Ms

Olympians XIV, Op. 14. Soprano, violin, viola, piano, and three percussion. 1973. Ms

Five Songs, Op. 15. Soprano, guitar, and viola. 1974. Ms

Cholê, Op. 17. Woodwind quintet. 1975. Ms

Canticum for Solo Guitar, Op. 16. Solo guitar. 1975. Ms

Blomidom, Op. 23. Flute trombone, viola, cello, piano, and percussion. 1978. Ms

Aria for Medium Voice and Piano. 1979. Ms

Missa Silvatica (Missa Brevis no. 1), Op. 26. SATB choir. 1981. Waterloo

Bacchae, Op. 30. Three clarinets, piano, and percussion. 1983. Ms

Shanadithit, Op. 29. Alto flute/piccolo, oboe/English horn, clarinet (B-flat and E-flat), horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, piano/harpsichord, and percussion. 1983. Ms

Ode, Op. 31. Soprano, flute, horn, viola, and cello. 1984. Ms

Requiem Parentibus, Op. 34. Oboe and string quartet. 1986. Ms

The Grey Islands, Op. 33. Soprano, clarinet, guitar, and tape or narrator. 1986. Ms

Five Newfoundland Folksongs, Op. 32. High or medium voice and clarinet. 1986. Ms

"...and a roll on the gong," Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, Op. 36. Percussion solo and orchestra. 1987. Ms

In the Late Wind of Death, Op. 35. Orchestra. 1987. Ms

Ovation, Op. 37. Symphonic band. 1988. Ms

Chorale: Homage Anton Bruckner, Op. 39. Symphonic band. 1989. Ms

Lumina Obscurata, Op. 38. Clarinet and piano. 1989. Ms

Confectum Carmine Munus (String Quartet no. 1), Op. 41. String quartet, 1990. Ms

Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 46. String quartet and string orchestra. 1991. Ms

Three Humours for Woodwind Quintet, Op. 45. Woodwind quintet. 1991. Ms

In Memoriam, Op. 43. Violin and piano. 1991. Ms

The Maiden's Lament, Op. 42 (continuous song cycle). Soprano, oboe (or clarinet or violin), and piano. 1991. Ms

Invisible Cities, Op. 49. Mezzo-soprano and clarinet. 1993. Ms

Orgia, Op. 50. Two narrators, three percussion. 1994. Ms

Amare, Op. 51. Flute and clarinet. 1995. Ms

Six Lowly Variations on the Flying Dutchman (In Canada), Op.54. Bass oboe, bass clarinet. 1996. Ms

Piano Trio no. 1, Op. 52 (Swann). Piano trio. 1997. Ms

Kluskap, A Micmac Legend for Children, Op. 56. Soprano, violin, cello, clarinet (bass clarinet), piano, percussion. 1997. Ms

Terra Incognita, Op. 55. Symphonic band. 1997. Ms

Outmusic: Rhapsodic Variations for Piano Quintet, Op. 53. Piano quintet. 1998. Ms

The Visitor: an Opera in Five Scenes with Prologue, Op. 58. Mezzo-soprano, lyric baritone, bass-baritone, female speaking role, flute (piccolo), oboe (english horn), clarinet (E-flat, bass clarinet), bassoon, piano, 2 percussion, 2 violins, viola, violoncello, contrabass. 2000. Ms

Landscapes, Op. 59. Symphonic band. 2002. Ms

Writings

"Serious music in Newfoundland has had a long history," Musicanada, Spring/Summer 1988


Further Reading

  • Eatock, Colin. 'Michael Parker and the art of composing on the rock,' Canadian Composers, 196, Dec 1984

    Kemp, Walter H. 'Three masses by Maritime composers,' Musical Canada: Words and Music Honouring Helmut Kallmann, eds John Beckwith and Frederick A. Hall (Toronto 1988)

    "Composer profile: Michael Parker," Atlantic Journal of Music 1, Spring 1993

    Vardy, Jennifer. "Composer Michael Parker loves sharing music with others," Western Star, Cornerbrook, Newfoundland, 19 Aug 2002