Canada’s foremost piano trio

Gryphon rises

It was 10 years ago this past February that the Gryphon Trio last played in our small, but very enthusiastic community.

It was 10 years ago this past February that the Gryphon Trio last played in our small, but very enthusiastic community.

Hosted by the then 50-year-old North Okanagan Community Concert Association, the world-famous Canadian piano trio, featuring cellist Roman Borys, violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon and pianist Jamie Parker, was celebrating its 10th anniversary.

With the North Okanagan Community Concert Association about to start its 60th season, what better way than to bring the Gryphon Trio back.

The trio will be at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre for a special red carpet gala event Saturday.

The Morning Star recently spoke with Parker via e-mail, who along with his counterparts, is part of the resident ensemble in the faculty of music at the University of Toronto

MS: The last time you were in Vernon, both Borys and Patipatanakoon were playing on some centuries’ old string instruments How do you top that with this current tour? And does the pianist get some love this time? Do you have some special commissions to mark the occasion?

JP: Nope, no special instrument for me. I get what I get. As one concert pianist put it, “For us, every night is a blind date.” Roman and Annalee enjoyed the Canada Council instruments very much, and they’ve now had the experience of being on the jury that awards them to the next generation of Canadian musicians, so it’s nice to see that experience come full circle.

We’re constantly busy commissioning works. This season, we have new works by Montréal-based composer Michael Oesterle, which we’ll be touring in B.C. this October, William Hirtz (an American composer/pianist friend from Juilliard and Banff days), Dinuk Wijeratne (another composer/pianist and conductor who’s doing a doctoral degree at University of Toronto), and a special new work by R. Murray Schafer, which will get its world premiere this December in Toronto.

MS: Back in 2003, you had also just finished working on the multi-media project, Constantinople, composed by your U of T colleague Christos Hatzis, which was critically acclaimed and performed around the world. I know you like to take on ambitious projects, so how do you top that one? Have you?

JP: In terms of production, it would be hard to top the Hatzis. It was great to have the whole gang reunited in Kingston last week for our performance there. The same five performers and the same five production people (director, sound, visuals, lighting, and production manager) from many performances all came together again. One gig we did just for fun was the Legends of Zelda show a couple of months ago. It was quite something to see a crowd of over 3,000 Zelda fans screaming and cheering after every movement we played. That production involved a large orchestra, full choir, and projected scenes from the video game.

MS: Speaking of the Canada Council, you were awarded this year’s Walter Carsen Prize in the Performing Arts – congratulations! It must be the icing on the cake of a two decade career.

How does it feel to be added to such an impressive list of artists who have been awarded the prize previously?

JP: The presentation of our trio winning the Canada Council Walter Carsen Prize will take place at our Music Toronto concert on Dec. 5. We thought that would be perfect because the first music recipient was Schafer, and we’ll be premiering a work of his that evening. For us it’s a special award, because it’s awarded on a four-year cycle — dance, theatre, dance, music — so we’re only the third music recipients of this prestigious award. My wife’s calling the cash component of this prize the “Finally we can Renovate our Kitchen Award.” I’ve promised to celebrate by buying a beer for all of my friends.

MS: You all are professors in the faculty of music at U of T, and I’m sure the demands of performing and recording have grown over the years. How have you been able to balance your professional lives?

JP: Balance is a constant challenge in our lives. During a typical weekday, I teach all day (trying not to start before 11 a.m.), spend a few hours with my family, and then practice and take care of email and U of T administrative things until 2:30 a.m. Then I’m on the road most weekends. Everyone has to work on being able to multi-task, prioritize, optimize in this day and age. The school year runs on an eight-month cycle, so at least I’ve got a good chunk of family time in the summers, although there are loads of chamber music festivals that keep us busy then too. I talk to my U of T students a lot about two kinds of stamina you’ve got to have or develop if you want to have any long-term success in this (or probably any other venture). One, you’ve got to have physical stamina, a strong immune system, and a healthy enough lifestyle to get you through the rigours of touring. Two, you’ve got to have career stamina – don’t get too excited by the highs, and don’t get depressed by the lows. You need patience if you want to be in this for the long haul.

MS: Speaking of finding the time, one of your last recordings was Messians’ For the End of Time (I hope there wasn’t a metaphor in there somewhere?). Where do you see yourselves in the next 10 years?

JP: We’re enjoying all of the activities that keep us busy. Sometimes, if you want to get something done, look for the busiest person in the room and ask them to help out. There are lots of sacrifices that you (and your spouse if you’re lucky like I am), have to make to be achieve and maintain any level of success in the music field. It’s not easy and it’s definitely not for everyone, but the rewards are tremendous too. We’ve got a few recording projects in the works —most notably a second Canadian Premieres CD— our first one resulted in our first Juno win which was nice for all the composers represented as well as us. Roman has been the artistic director of Chamberfest, Ottawa’s fantastic summer chamber music festival, so that keeps his cell phone bill very respectable.

MS: And lastly, what can our local audience expect from you this time?

JP: For our upcoming B.C. tour, we’ll be playing another Beethoven trio – the Ghost trio, an excellent work by Michael Oesterle called Centennials, which musically describes three people that influenced Michael who were all born in 1912, and the Mendelssohn D minor trio – we toured with the C minor trio last time around. So we still like programs that combine classical-era works, newly commissioned Canadian works, and Romantic blockbusters. And there’s always time for a tango as an encore.

The Gryphon Trio takes the stage at the Performing Arts Centre Saturday at 7:30 p.m.  Individual tickets are $35/adult, $17.50/student at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, ticketseller.ca.

 

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