Monday, December 17, 2007

Musician Spotlight: Richard Parnas

Let’s face it: musicians tend to live pretty cool lives.The recent success of video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band proves that people love the thrill of creating something to be heard by others (even if it only means hitting four multicolored buttons in a sometimes uncoordinated fashion.).

Richard Parnas, Principal Viola player for the ASO, is no exception. Parnas grew up in Saint Louis, MO eventually moving to Philadelphia to attend the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. Although he entered on a violin scholarship, the draw of the viola made him switch instruments the first week of school. Indeed, he believes that a “person always knows whether he prefers violin or viola.” After spending four years in the Navy and one season with the Saint Louis Symphony, Parnas began a 35 year career at the National Symphony Orchestra as Principal Violist in 1955. In 1992, he became Principal Violist for the ASO and has held the post for the last 15 years.

Throughout the years, Parnas has seen his share of memorable performances including playing William Walton’s Viola Concerto with the ASO, soloing at Carnegie Hall and performing at the Library of Congress with the Julliard Quartet. Perhaps most incredibly, he was part of the National Symphony’s string quartet that performed 3 concerts a year at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in return for the use of its Stradivari instruments. According to Encyclopedia Smithsonian,

“Antonio Stradivari was born in 1644, and established his shop in Cremona, Italy, where he remained active until his death in 1737. His interpretation of geometry and design for the violin has served as a conceptual model for violin makers for more than 250 years.

Stradivari also made harps, guitars, violas, and cellos--more than 1,100 instruments in all, by current estimate. About 650 of these instruments survive today.”

These concerts continued for 10 years and not surprisingly, Parnas favorite piece he has played was Harold in Italy by Hector Berloiz who composed it specifically for the Stradivari viola.
Parnas has played a spectrum of music under conductors who favored the classics to those that preferred the contemporary. However, in the future, he believes orchestras will have to “mix up the seasons with some modern pieces along with the Beethovens and the Mozarts” in order to be successful. To this end, Parnas is looking forward to playing Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis with the ASO in 2008. Written by modern English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams, the piece features “really nice parts for the violin and viola.”

Thus, Parnas’ musical career, rich with rare experiences, has passed both state lines and time lines. And while you may not see a situation like this play out on the next Guitar Hero, we still think it’s pretty rock and roll.

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