Chamberfest: Giving back and getting back with the Gryphon Trio’s Jamie Parker

Gryphon Trio: Annalee Patipatanakoon, Jamie Parker and Roman Borys.

Jamie Parker is a celebrated pianist, a professor, a major Vancouver Canucks fan, a husband and a dad.

He’s also the younger brother of Jon Kimura Parker and for 25 years he’s been a member of the Gryphon Trio which he describes as “two really patient people and one cellist.” The cellist is the Artistic Director of Chamberfest Roman Borys and the other patient person is violinist Annalee Patipatanakoon, who is doubly patient as she is married to the cellist. 

As you can tell Parker has a pretty darn good sense of humour to go along with his serious musical chops.

Those will be on display at this year’s Chamberfest in performances by the Gryphons.

But first up, Parker will perform music for two pianos with Ottawa’s Nicole Presentey.

“We have been colleagues and friends for many years and we have finally gotten around to playing a concert together. We’ve got a Mozart Sonata (for Two Pianos in D Major, K.448), Witold Lutoslawski’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini for Two Pianos and the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor.

The Brahms, he said, was also conceived as a two-piano work, he said.

“Playing with a second piano on stage is a lot of fun. I do it occasionally with my brother. But because of busy schedules, I don’t get to to do it too much. I have also done some duets with Hinrich Alpers at Chamberfest. He is somebody we met many years ago when he was one of the three laureates of the Honens competition when I was a jury member. I love his playing, to the point that if I ever drop out of Gryphon, I want him playing with these guys.”

Nicole Presentey is professor of music at Carleton University but she is also a talented pianist in her own right. This concert will be a rare opportunity to hear her play in concert.

“Back in the day there were a couple of well-known, up-and-coming Ottawa pianists and they were Angela Hewitt and Nicole Presentey. Then life intervened for Nicole,” Parker said, and her career moved toward teaching.

These musical relationships are very important for Parker.

Perhaps that explains his 25 years with the Gryphon Trio.

“I love music and I love people. I’m here to have a good time and play music with friends. When you are in a chamber group, the first handful of years will test whether you can make it work.

“Economically, you are not going to be able to sustain yourself with five concerts a year. You have to have other things going on that subsidize your love of chamber music. We have all been fortunate to have those things and enjoy those other things outside our trio work.”

He’s been a university professor for those 25 years, 10 at Wilfrid Laurier University and 15 at the University of Toronto.

“As the trio has gotten busier, I have done less solo work but that’s fine, that’s the way my career has unfolded.”

He has been guided in his thinking about chamber music, to a certain extent, by presentations with Rob Kapilow. These events are called ‘What Makes It Great’, and in them Kapilow dissects a piece of music and to find its essence.

This year, on July 30, the Gryphons are taking part in an examination of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, Parker said.

What Parker has learned is a sense of the chamber ensemble as a leaderless team.

“You are there for the collective good of the music and the performance for the audience and you talk things out. You try different ideas, you try different interpretations and then you settle on what works for everyone.”

No members of an ensemble always agree on everything and that’s fine by Parker.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way. You wouldn’t have the sense of the collective whole and putting on the best interpretation without that (give and take). So everybody has that in mind as you put forward ideas and try different ideas.”

After 25 years the Gryphons have evolved a sophisticated set mandates, he said.

“In terms of our performing activities I would say our dual mandate is to preserve the fantastic works of art in the history of chamber music composition: Beethoven, Brahms and all that and  present those to audiences today.

“But we also want to perform the music of today. We have commissioned 70-80 works over the years. That’s always been a very strong part of our identity.”

As teachers, the Gryphons present a broad spectrum.

“Annalee and I are fulltime professors at the University of Toronto and we are involved with young adults and young professionals. We also have lots of programs for younger people (through the Gryphon Trio and Chamberfest).

“One of our favourites is called Listen Up! We work with an elementary school over the course of a year. The kids write little snippets of poetry and melodies and we bring in a composer who puts together piece for piano trio and children’s choir.” Kapilow is the regular conductor. He rehearses the students and then he leads a concert.

“We do a couple of these a year now across Canada. The most epic one for me was a collaboration the Northern Arts and Culture Centre in Yellowknife NWT. The kids came from five or six communities across the territory.”

This kind of paying back began in his youth, he said.

“When I was young my mother is a retired piano teacher and I would hear these pieces. My uncle was a piano teacher too. Then Jackie (his brother)  would play them and you knew that was the way they were supposed to go.”

Parker also did all he could to avoid practicing but eventually he became very dedicated.

“After my undergrad at UBC, I went to do my masters and doctorate at Juilliard. I had some Canada Council grants to help me out. I felt a responsibility. Canadians had helped educate me and given me the opportunity to go to New York. So I felt I owed every taxpayer. I’m totally good with all the community work that we do.”

These days the Chamberfest too has assumed a very important role in Parker’s life.

“Both Chamberfest and the Gryphon Trio are celebrating 25 years. I was at the second festival, and the trio performed at the third festival and we have been there ever since. Chamberfest is very dear to us.

“On a personal and professional level: I met my wife (Mim Pearse) there. She was a volunteer at the festival. I can’t remember whose concert it was, but afterwards we musicians were hanging out at a bar on the patio.”

The Ottawa Citizen wrote about their first meeting and Parker’s still tickled by a line in the piece: ‘Their eyes met over a pitcher of beer.’ “It cracks me up.”

These days Parker’s family, including two young budding musicians, head to Ottawa for the festival every summer. It’s a chance to catch up with relatives, enjoy two weeks of music and think about the future.

“One of the things that we want to make sure of is to put together an organization that will continue on beyond our involvement. You want to get it to the point where it is not dependent on one person.

“The volunteers have been so loyal to good music and good company. I remember back in the day when we had concerts in St. John’s the Evangelist. We called them the covenant of sweat. I’d pass by a lineup of people who had been sweating for an hour and a half to get into the concert and sweat some more. I thought to myself, ‘You’ve sweated for me, so I’ll sweat for you’.”

Molto Piano: James Parker and Nicole Presentey
Where: Dominion Chalmers United Church
When: July 27 at 1 p.m.
Tickets and more information:

Share Post
Written by

Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.