About Geoffrey Parsons

 

Image of Geoffrey ParsonsGeoffrey Parsons (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. Intending to study architecture, he won the ABC Concerto Competition in 1947 with the Brahms B-flat Piano Concerto, and in 1950 travelled to Britain to perform with bass baritone Peter Dawson. The six-concert tour completed, Parsons remained in London, earning a living initially as a cocktail lounge pianist.A performance of Schubert’s Winterreise with Gerhard Hüsch in his first London concert since World War II led to his being invited to Munich to be Hüsch’s permanent accompanist, where they worked together almost daily.

In 1961, he made his first appearance with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at the Royal Festival Hall at the invitation of Walter Legge, and later became her principal accompanist. The list of singers with whom he worked includes Victoria de los Angeles, Nicolai Gedda, Rita Streich, Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hotter, Janet Baker and Jessye Norman.

Parsons did not confine himself to singers, accompanying some of the greatest instrumentalists, including Nathan Milstein, Paul Tortelier, Wanda Wilkomirska and Ida Haendel. Artist whom he partnered quickly appreciated his exemplary standards of musicianship, and a level of pianistic command that was totally new to the accompanist’s role. This led to his increasing recognition as the ideal accompanist in a career that saw him perform 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.

Increasingly Parsons began to partner younger singers such as Thomas Hampson, Olaf Baer and Barbara Bonney. Some of these younger artists were also pupils of his long-time partner, the singer Erich Vietheer: Susan Kessler, Yvonne Kenny, Felicity Lott and Anne Murray among them. The encouragement of younger artists became feature of the latter part of his career, which saw him accrue honours as the leading exponent of the accompanist’s art. He was Prince Consort Professor of Piano at the Royal College of Music.

His partnership with Australia was an essential part of his entire career and he became the means for bringing some of the world’s most important singers to his native country. He 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.

Musically supportive and pianistically polished, Parsons was the consummate accompanist. He became an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1975, and the Guildhall School of Music in 1983. He received the FRCM in 1987, was named the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist of the Year in 1992 and was made an OBE in 1977 and an AO in 1990.

(Source: The Oxford Companion to Australian Music, pp. 446-447)

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