(1929-1995) pianist, accompanist
Born in Sydney, he studied with Winifred Burston at the NSW State Conservatorium from 1941 to 1948, and Friedrich Wührer in Munich in 1956. Geoffrey won the ABC Concerto Competition in 1947 with the Brahms B-flat Piano Concerto. In 1950 he performed with bass baritone Peter Dawson in Britain. Remaining in London, Geoffrey earned a living mainly as a cocktail lounge pianist until a successful performance of Schubert’s Winterreise with Gerhard Hüsch led to Geoffrey being invited to Munich where he became Hüsch’s permanent accompanist. Soon after he performed with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at the Royal Festival Hall and later became her principal accompanist. Other great singers with whom he worked include Victoria de los Angeles, Nicolai Gedda, Rita Streich, Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hotter, Janet Baker and Jessye Norman.
Although best known as a vocal accompanist, Parsons also joined many of the greatest instrumentalists of the day such as violinists Nathan Milstein, Wanda Wilkomirska and Ida Haendel and cellist Paul Tortelier. These and other artists quickly appreciated his exemplary standards of musicianship and pianistic command which was totally new to the accompanist’s role at the time. He was recognised as the ideal accompanist. During his career he performed in over 40 countries in six continents, including all the major international music festivals. He also recorded widely throughout his career, leaving a vast output.
The encouragement of younger artists became a feature of the latter part of his career. He partnered younger singers Olaf Baer Barbara Bonney, Felicity Lott, Australian Yvonne Kenny and many more. Musically supportive and pianistically polished, Parsons was the consummate accompanist. As the leading exponent of the accompanist’s art, he became Prince Consort Professor of Piano at the Royal College of Music. He was made an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1975, also the Guildhall School of Music in 1983, received the FRCM in 1987, was named the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist of the Year in 1992 and was further honoured with an OBE in 1977 and an AO in 1990.
Geoffrey toured Australia 31 times between 1957 and 1993. In 1973 he gave the first recital at the Sydney Opera House with Birgit Nilsson, and his last performance in Australia was with Olaf Baer in Winterreise in the University of Melbourne’s Melba Hall in 1993. Regrettably Geoffrey never performed in Adelaide but he nevertheless had strong connections with South Australian musicians in particular violinist, Beryl Kimber as well as the many pianists and singers who travelled to the UK to have lessons with him.
Geoffrey was a strong supporter of the Accompanists’ Guild of SA and lent his name to our endeavours as our international Patron from 1985 to his untimely death in 1995. The Guild immediately arranged a Memorial Concert in Geoffrey’s Honour, held on Thursday May 4, 1995 at the Flinders Street School of Music. The program included performance and spoken contributions from Beryl Kimber, Elizabeth Silsbury, Sarah and Bernard Depasquale, Len Amadio, Guila Tiver and Diana Harris, Greg Roberts and Leonie and Keith Hempton.
After offering Accompanists/Associate Artist Awards since 1984 (won by Bernard Depasquale – now CEO of the AMEB) in 1995 the Guild presented the Geoffrey Parsons Memorial Associate Artist Award on October 14, 1995, in Tanunda’s Langmeil Church during the Barossa Festival. It was won by Esther Mae Wong. From 1996 on it has been called simply “The Geoffrey Parsons Award” when it was won by Adelaide pianist, Nerissa Pearce, who has since been one of Adelaide’s busiest professional accompanists.