Trevor Philips's Reviews > Above Parr: Memoir of a Child Prodigy

Above Parr by Patricia Parr
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Patricia Parr had played her first solo concert at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto in 1944, at the age of seven, attracting praise from the music critics of all three Toronto papers.

She writes: “From the age of eight onwards, I was performing as soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Massey Hall; the Toronto Philharmonic at the ‘Prom Concerts’ in Varsity Arena; the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in the Eastman Theatre, and the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall. I held the distinction of being the youngest artist ever to be engaged with these orchestras – although for the life of me I don’t know how, or why, any of this materialized.”

This was, perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the book. The gaps in her memory, a result of painfully repressed experiences that "went underground" (as she put it). By 14, Parr had been taken on as a piano student by Isabelle Vengerova in New York, planning to fly back and forth to New York for monthly lessons. But Vengerova was having none of it, and by the age of 15 Parr was living with an aunt and uncle in a suburb of Philadelphia, on full scholarship at Philadelphia’s famed Curtis Institute, “the equivalent of attending Harvard to study law,” as Parr puts it. Vengerova had taught at Curtis from its inception in 1924, whipping into pianistic shape “the likes of Gary Graffman, Leonard Bernstein, Jacob Lateiner, and Lucas Foss.”

Parr’s life journey after the Curtis years is the story of a gradual, and in parts very painful, journey away from the solo piano careers that Curtis (and perhaps most conservatories and the students that attend them) sees as the highest form of their art. It’s fascinating, though, to see how the earliest steps on what was to become her primary musical path can still be traced back to those formative Curtis days.

“In the mind of my mother,” she writes, “you needed to be a soloist to be considered successful. However there are many fine musicians who simply do not thrive under the solo limelight and choose other ways of revealing their talents…[establishing] themselves first as chamber musicians, and then [moving] on to their particular field, whether as a soloist, a teacher, or a recording artist… The experience of sharing musical goals, the rapport you establish with your colleagues, and the insights you receive from playing with them have always elevated my artistry, filling me with the greatest satisfaction…”

As her memoir reveals, that satisfaction reached its peak in her work, for 20 years starting in 1988, as a founding member of the Amici ensemble in partnership with clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas and cellist David Hetherington – an ensemble which by its instrumental make-up dictated from the start that they would have to invite “amici” into every concert they performed. Whether she found this niche thanks to the Curtis years or in spite of the Curtis years, readers of Above Parr will have to decide for themselves.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 8, 2017 – Shelved

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