QCSO oboist sings praises of our orchestra, while living and working in Austin, Texas

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Oboist Andrew Parker will perform with pianist Marian Lee Saturday night at the Figge Art Museum, Davenport.

Andrew Parker loves the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) so much, he travels from Austin, Texas regularly to play here.

He’s Associate Professor of Oboe at the Butler School of Music, University of Texas-Austin, and principal oboe for the QCSO. The friendly, enthusiastic musician is performing his first solo recital (in the QCSO’s chamber series, “Up Close”) since joining the orchestra in 2009, on Saturday, Jan. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Accompanied by pianist Marian Lee, the concert is at the Figge Art Museum lobby, 225 W. 2nd St., Davenport.

“I’m really looking forward to finally collaborating with Andy Parker,” Lee, assistant professor of piano and head of the keyboard area at St. Ambrose University, said this week. “I’ve always admired his incredibly expressive playing as a QCSO audience member and we’ve always talked about playing together, so I’m so happy it’s finally happening! 

“It’s a program full of variety — and I look most forward to playing Morris’ ‘Four Personalities’ and the Poulenc Sonata,” she said of the four pieces Saturday for oboe and piano. “I think the audience is going to love the jazzy aspect to the Morris’ interpretation of colors and the personalities that go with these four colors. The Poulenc Sonata is dedicated to Prokofiev — one of my favorite composers — and I can definitely hear the inspiration Poulenc gets from Prokofiev’s music, especially from his ‘Romeo and Juliet’ ballet suite.”

The program is comprised of:

  • ALYSSA MORRIS Four Personalities (2007)
  • FRANCIS POULENC Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1962)
  • SIGISMUND TODUȚĂ Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1955)

 It features a little bit of everything in its quartet of works, Parker said Monday.

“It’s sort of like something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” he said, noting two works are by female composers.

“Which I think is very important because they’ve been very historically underrepresented, especially in the compositional world,” Parker said. “One of the other pieces I’m playing is a very popular work, that’s very well-liked. And the other one is a much lesser well-known, off the beaten path, esoteric work. So I think it’s a wide array of different elements to the recital.”

The Francis Poulenc sonata is the popular one, for good reason, he said.

The French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)

“It’s a fantastic work and it’s actually the last piece that Poulenc wrote before he himself died,” Parker said. “People really interpret it as a meditation on his own impending death. So it’s very profound in a lot of ways.” Poulenc died on Jan. 30, 1963 at age 64.

The “Poem” by the second woman on the bill, Russian Marina Dranishnikova, is “very much in the style of Rachmaninoff,” Parker said. “So it’s very beautiful. Lush and romantic in quality,” he said. The composer was better known as a pianist, whose father happened to play oboe, and she wrote it for him.

The literally colorful “Four Personalities” by Alyssa Morris – based on the Hartman personality test — reflects these hues and behaviors:

  • Yellow: Yellow is fun-loving. The joy that comes from doing something just for the sake of doing it is what motivates and drives yellow.
  • White: White is a peacekeeper. White is kind, adaptable, and a good listener. Though motivated by peace, white struggles with indecisiveness.
  • Blue: Blue brings great gifts of service, loyalty, sincerity, and thoughtfulness. Intimacy, creating relationships, and having purpose is what motivates and drives blue.
  • Red: Motivated by power, red is aggressive and assertive. Red is visionary, confident, and proactive.

Parker said he’s got all these qualities in his own personality.

Composer Alyssa Morris earned her doctorate in oboe performance from University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

“All of those facets are present in me — you can be fun-loving, you can be indecisive, you can be forlorn and you can be a little fiery,” he said. “Those are basically what the four movements of this are. So, I would say, in general, I tend to be a very upbeat person. In fact, my husband refers to me as a Golden Retriever. So I think that probably, if I had to pick the first movement, yellow would be the most accurate.”

Yellow, the first movement, is the fun-loving one, in a jazzy, swing style, Parker said.

“And the indecisive movement has a lot of large intervallic leaps. So it’s like you kind of, you aren’t sure where to go,” he said. “You don’t know where you’re going. It feels a little discombobulated. Mostly through compositional techniques, the last movement Red, which is the more fiery one, that is really virtuosic and fast.”

Why the oboe?

A 43-year-old Florida native, Parker began taking piano lessons at age 5, and took up the oboe in 4th grade for his school band.

“I picked the oboe because the band director said that it was one of the hardest instruments to play and I thought I could learn how to charm snakes with it,” he joked.

“I’ve just always had a personality that’s drawn to a challenge,” Parker said. “To this day, I believe something sort of providential happened because the oboe just fits me so perfectly. I didn’t know that when I was in fourth grade — I didn’t know what it would entail, anything about it, really. It was a purely instinctual thing, but now looking back, it’s like, yeah, I was called back to that instrument in a way.”

Parker received his bachelor’s degree at the Eastman School of Music, master’s from Yale University, and doctorate from the University of Michigan.

“It was so clear to me that I wanted to be a professional musician because it was the activity in my life during which I felt the greatest fulfillment,” he wrote on his website. “Playing with others, contributing to the world by making beautiful music. The transition to college was extremely enjoyable and challenging.

“I never really doubted my passion for this art form, but developing the skills to do it consistently and well enough to support myself eluded me,” Parker wrote. “I had to learn how to be disciplined about the oboe and reed making. I gradually began learning how to practice in a deep, productive, and deeply satisfying way. 

“I went to the Eastman School of Music to study with the amazing oboe teacher, Richard Killmer. I knew he was a guru, and I greatly enjoyed my audition/lesson with him,” he said. “He clearly cultivated an oboe studio that was supportive and passionate. At Eastman, the students were so focused on their art and that there existed an overt spirit of supportiveness and collaboration.  It was a school in which each student was given the space they needed to discover the artist within.”

Even though he’s been educated at some of the best music schools in the world – Eastman, Yale and a doctorate from Michigan in 2009 – the oboist said he’s still a work-in-progress.

“That’s one of the joys of playing an instrument or doing any art form,” Parker said. “Being a painter, being a sculptor, or dance or anything. You’re constantly refining your craft. You never get to a place where you feel like, all right, I’ve got it. There’s nothing left to improve upon.”

“I was very lucky to have good teachers, music teachers growing up,” he said. “I ended up just kind of also providentially sort of coming into contact with some really wonderful music teachers — piano teachers, choir directors, and ultimately an oboe teacher. So I just had a really good education and then I had that love of music from a young age and that passion is what sees you through all of the challenging times where you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing – because that does happen.”

Playing throughout North America

Parker maintains a rich career as an orchestral musician, soloist, and chamber player in addition to his experience as a teacher. He’s appeared as a guest soloist with the Great Falls Symphony, The Puerto Rico Philharmonic, and University of Texas Symphony Orchestra. He’s also played in many orchestras in North America, including the National Arts Centre Orchestra, Florida Orchestra, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Richmond, Ann Arbor, Flint, New Mexico, Santa Fe, Great Falls, and the Plymouth Symphony.

Parker taught oboe at the University of Iowa from 2009 to 2015, and since then at the University of Texas-Austin.

Parker has worked with several conductors including Mark Russell Smith, Nicholas McGegan, Yuri Tamirkanov, Robert Spano, Manfred Honeck, Marin Alsop, JoAnn Falletta, David Robertson, Michael Stern, Jaap van Zweden, David Zinman, Leonard Slatkin, Guillermo Figueroa, Stefan Sanderling, Jahja Ling, James Gaffigan, and Larry Rachleff.

He first moved to Austin seven years ago, and this is his first chamber music concert in the QC since then. He taught at University of Iowa for six years, and after moving to Texas, was forced to limit his QCSO concerts to the six Masterworks a year.

Parker is the QCSO musician who travels the farthest – over 1,000 miles – to perform for each concert, usually getting in Wednesday to start rehearsing Thursday for that weekend’s programs. There’s also no direct flights from Austin to Moline, so Parker typically connects in Dallas or Chicago.

Though Austin is a big music city (across many genres), he doesn’t do much performing off campus there.

“Because the classical music scene is surprisingly a little bit smaller, actually considering how big music here is in general,” Parker said. “The  classical music scene is not, I don’t think it necessarily reflects the size of the city accurately.”

The Austin Symphony Orchestra is comparable to the QCSO in size and frequency of concerts, though the Texas city is much larger than the whole QC region, with a 2020 population of over 961,000.

For the past three summers, Parker has played for a three-week festival, Music in the Mountains, in Durango, Colo., as well as the Round Top International Festival (about 80 minutes from Austin) since 2014.

Parker made his solo concerto debut with the QCSO in March 2019, performing the 1945 Richard Strauss Oboe Concerto.

The Quad City Symphony is partnering with 10 community organizations to offer free concert tickets.

“It was amazing. It was really, really an honor and it was a joy in part because I love the orchestra so much,” he recalled. “I have to love it, if I keep flying back six times a year every year ‘cause it’s tough on my schedule. My teaching schedule at the university here, but I love the orchestra and I have a really, really good friendship and bond with (conductor) Mark Russell Smith.”

Parker also has close friends in the orchestra, including principal bassoonist Benjamin Coelho, with whom he stays in Iowa City each time he comes to perform with the QCSO.

“He’s the bassoon professor at Iowa, so we were colleagues there for six years,” Parker said. “He’s one of my best friends in the world. So it’s always an opportunity to spend some time with him and his wife when I’m there as well.”

Fortunately, he arranged his UT schedule so he could continue with the QC Symphony.

“When I first got offered this position at Austin, I didn’t think I could even be able to keep playing at all,” Parker said. “I thought I was going to have to give up my position entirely with the orchestra. So this was a very pleasant surprise that we could come up with this compromise.”

Digital access available

For the Figge concert Saturday, doors open at 6 p.m., and a cash bar will be available.

All QCSO concert venues are approved for full seating capacity, but patrons may request a socially distanced seat. These seating requests can be made by calling the QCSO Box Office at 563-322-7276 or emailing info@qcso.org. Requests must be made by 4:30 p.m. on Thursday preceding the event. Availability is limited.

Tickets are $25 for adults, and $10 for students, available HERE. For $25, you can get a Household Live Stream + Digital Access. The digital concert will be a live stream on Jan. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and will be available for viewing for 30 days following the live stream. Allow 12 hours for video processing after the conclusion of the live-streamed event before attempting to access the recording.

Facial coverings will be required for all indoor QCSO concerts. If transmission rates are moderate or low in both Scott and Rock Island counties according to the CDC COVID Data Tracker, masks will be optional for vaccinated individuals and strongly recommended for unvaccinated individuals.

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