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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

Music Scene
Pianist finds Hawai'i comfort zone

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Jon Kimura Parker, a regular with the Honolulu and Maui symphonies, feels at home in the Islands. He also has performed at Carnegie Hall and London's Queen Elizabeth Hall.

. . .

Jon Kimura Parker plays Beethoven

With the Honolulu Symphony, conducted by Samuel Wong, part of the 2001-2002 Halekulani Classical MasterWorks series

7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Blaisdell Concert Hall



In a city of 1.8 million people — only 4 percent of whom are Asian — somehow Jon Kimura Parker found udon in Houston.

"I'm all sorted out with what's really important," he said, laughing.

And aside from finding the best udon shop in Texas, Parker knows that family, above even thick Japanese noodles, takes priority in his life.

Which is why the internationally acclaimed pianist, in town for two concerts with the Honolulu Symphony this weekend, is in Houston in the first place.

He took a full-time teaching job at Rice University.

"Actually, up until this year, I've never had a job," said Parker, in between appointments with students during his office hours. "Forty-one and never had a full-time job. It's fascinating."

Up until recently Parker would perform nearly 100 concerts a year. Once he traveled to 15 cities in Europe in 17 days, covering five countries.

"That is insane," he said. "It got to the point where it was too much."

Since his daughter, Sophie, was born more than two years ago, Parker decided it was time to settle down. But being an overachiever and workaholic, he's still trying to find a sane and manageable balance between teaching and performing.

"Believe it or not, I thought I was going to slow down," said Parker, who still performs about three weekends a month. "I hope to find a better balance. This year is difficult, but gradually, over the years, I hope to find the right kind of balance and perform in places I want to perform."

Honolulu has always been one of his must-stops. A regular with the Honolulu and Maui symphonies, Parker feels right at home in the Islands.

"I've always felt a certain comfort level coming to Hawai'i," he said. "Being half Japanese, I just fit right in. And I never thought I would fit in anywhere."

Houston has been somewhat of a culture shock for Parker. And not just because he's Asian American.

"I just had the unique experience of going out and buying a car," he said with a laugh. "We lived in New York for 22 years. We never needed a car. It's so cool to get into a car and just drive somewhere."

So they bought a Subaru Outback. Good in snow, though that won't be useful in Houston. Even better in floods. Just in case, he said.

"But most important," he added, "it had to have a good stereo. It's a musician thing."

Parker is every bit a musician, from his CD collection, his textbook knowledge, his wardrobe, his energy, his passion.

He took the stage at age 5, appearing with the Vancouver Youth Orchestra, and never left. His early musical upbringing paved the way for a full scholarship to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York as a student of renowned piano pedagogue Adele Marcus.

He has performed everywhere worth mentioning: Carnegie Hall, Chicago's Orchestra Hall, Sydney Opera House, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, London's Queen Elizabeth Hall.

And for a tough crowd. He has given two command performances for Queen Elizabeth II and tickled the eardrums of the prime ministers of Canada and Japan and the U.S. Supreme Court.

And with great response. Critics have noted his "gargantuan technique, awesome timing, oceanic depth, volcanic fire," "edge-of-your-seat" performances and "delicacy of fingerwork."

His concerts with the Honolulu Symphony, as part of the Halekulani Classical MasterWorks series, showcase his ability to maneuver Beethoven. He will perform the mature piece Piano Concerto No. 4.

"It's the one piano concerto when you're 20, you want to learn it, but forget it," he said, demonstrating the depth of his knowledge on the keyboard while discussing how he's dissected the piece. "You'll never understand the piece until you're 40."

He examines out loud the amazing tension between the piano and orchestra, the dialogue that moves from shouts to whispers, the finality of the last movement that, in a word, is exhilarating.

And you realize Parker, at 41, has arrived.