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May 01, 2009

Piano virtuoso Jon Kimura Parker will perform Shostakovich with Symphony Silicon Valley

Richard Scheinin, Mercury News
Just over a year ago, Canadian-born pianist Jon Kimura Parker gave an exhilarating recital at Le Petit Trianon in downtown San Jose. This world-class pianist he has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra was going to the very heart of Schumann and Stravinsky in the intimate concert hall.

He was telling stories through the music. He was driving home Stravinsky's rhythms as if he were stride piano master James P. Johnson. His performance, in other words, was smart, accessible, exciting. And yet the place was only half full. It was one of those nights when it's easy to ask, "What's wrong with San Jose?"

So here's the challenge: Will South Bay music fans turn out Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, when Parker returns to perform with Symphony Silicon Valley at the California Theatre? Let's hope so.

Parker will be the soloist for Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor. The piece would seem to be made for him, as it reels from keening lyricism to madcap shenanigans, quoting Beethoven and Rossini (the "William Tell" Overture) along the way.

The program also includes Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9, concisely drawn in five movements. It veers, in that uniquely Shostakovichian way, from forlorn to pranksterish to threatening. Overall, though, it has a surprisingly light touch for a work originally intended to celebrate the Soviet triumph over the Nazis. There are moments when it brings Mozart to mind.

Finally, the program concludes with Beethoven's Symphony No. 4, the most neglected of the nine masterworks. Sitting between the mighty Third ("Eroica") and Fifth, it is "a slender Grecian maiden," Robert Schumann once wrote, "between two Nordic giants." The work shows off Beethoven's sunnier, more unfettered side; the first movement verges on ecstatic.

Gregory Vajda will conduct the program's three performances. (Tickets are available for all three, with the best selection remaining for Thursday.) Resident conductor of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, Vajda has guest-led orchestras ranging from the Hungarian State Opera to the renowned, Paris-based Ensemble Intercontemporain, which specializes in contemporary works.

The last time Vajda conducted Symphony Silicon Valley, in 2006, it was with excellent results: a rapturous performance, with soloist Jon Nakamatsu, of Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto. Now he goes to work with Parker.

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