Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Tuckamore Festival Starts Off With a Bang

The Kirk in St. John's is the venue for the free lunch-time concerts of the Tuckamore.

How is it that when the CBC does its round up of music festivals in the province they miss the Tuckamore Festival?  It has to be one of the best deals in town delivering both quality and quantity.  The Tuckamore is nothing less than a feast of superb music by outstanding musicians.  And it is delivered up with the convenience of a guided excursion. 

But I prefer the food metaphor, the sumptuous repast.  I love music but I am the first to admit that I have no specialized knowledge of the field.  This year my feast began with an appetizer in the form of a lunchtime prelude concert by an outstanding yourng pianist, Timothy Brennan.  For one blissful hour he made us forget the heat that followed us even into the venue of the Kirk.  It was easy to see why chairperson Donna Ball commented that Brennan was being included on the English Harbour leg of the Tuckamore.  He is worth showing off, nor was I surprised when one of the greatest pianists today - Jon Kimura Parker- pronounced him excellent in the master class a few days later.  We all wanted an extra serving of his playing.

Jon Kimura Parker, an infectious smile and a stage presence to match.

If the young Brennan was the appetizer, Peter-Anthony Togni was our inspired sommelier.  During his Concert Chat and Coffee, he regaled us with personal anecdotes about the  "Jackie" Kimura Parker from their shared school days –imagine long hair and lumberjack shirts!  Togni would stand for up to an hour outside Kimura Parker's rehearsal studio at UBC to listen undetected.  His comments about the Rachmaninoff Preludes (and the composer's big paws that spanned a twelfth) and the riots that the Stravinsky Rite of Spring sparked brought the upcoming evening's program alive.  In much the same way that musicians do not play notes, they play music, Togni's comments reminded us that composers are people, often with rich characters that match their creativity.  (My fifteen-year-old was intrigued enough by Togni's analysis that he vowed to get up early on a summer vacation day to be a fly on the wall during Togni's master class in composition.)  It was warmly (no pun intended) engaging to listen to Togni as he fused the insights of both friend, musician and composer into one voice.  Easy listening, easy learning–it doesn't get much better…

Except if you have Jon Kimura Parker on the menu as the main course.  Heck, he was the dessert too!  He took to the stage like a racehorse bursting out of the gate.  And even if you didn't care a fig for Russian composers, I guarantee that you would have been smitten by the time the opening bars of Rachmaninoff faded.  The playing and stage presence of this piano great is a rare combination of robust physicality and subtle refinement. 

It was also a treat to hear his arrangement of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.  A popular piece, Parker was inspired by its 100th anniversary to tackle the daunting task of weaving in the orchestral parts into the single instrument of the piano.  The audience members beside me whispered incredulously.  It was an unbelievable performance worthy of its own riot.

Now the Tuckamore Festival continues to August 17.  What other treats are in store for us?

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