Monday, September 18, 2023

Parker van Ostrand in Conversation with Christian Baldini

On September 23, I will have the pleasure of conducting Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the wonderful young pianist Parker van Ostrand. This will be in Sacramento (California) with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, in a program that will also feature Brahms' Second Symphony, as well as Midnight Stirring by Nancy Galbraith. Below is an interview with Parker.
Christian Baldini: Dear Parker, it is a pleasure to welcome you again in your native Sacramento to feature you as our soloist in Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra. Tell us, how does it feel to come back home and be featured as our soloist?

Parker van Ostrand: I’m really excited. Playing with orchestra is one of my favorite things as a musician, and getting to do it with a great orchestra and conductor makes it even better. And this will be the first time I play Prokofiev 3 with orchestra. It's also nostalgic since I’m performing again at my old high school. The first rehearsal was the first time I went back there since graduating more than two years ago!

CB: The first (and last) time we featured you as our soloist it was within our Rising Stars series, and you played Beethoven's 2nd Piano Concerto. This was four years ago, and you have amassed a number of successes since then, including winning prizes at major international competitions, performing together with Yuja Wang in San Francisco, being named a 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts. How do you feel? What has changed for you?

PvO: I feel really grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had in the last couple years. Playing with Yuja was definitely a highlight because I’ve looked up to her more than almost any other pianist ever since I was a kid. One thing that’s changed with all this experience is I feel more open to being spontaneous on stage. I’m more confident in my musical decisions and style of playing, so I’m able to take more risks and see what ideas I can come up with on the spot. When you let loose and don’t worry so much about being perfect or how other people might judge your playing, performing becomes a lot more fun.

CB: Tell us about Prokofiev, and his Third Piano Concerto. What are some of the things you like the most about this piece, and what should people listen for when you perform it?

PvO: Prokofiev 3 is one of my favorite concertos to play- it’s naughty, sarcastic, even grotesque at times. I love playing this piece because it’s really fun to go all out with making the piece as “rude” and brash as possible. The writing is very virtuosic and even acrobatic at times, so it’s pretty cool to watch from the audience standpoint. Prokofiev himself was rebellious and cocky during his time at conservatory, and this piece perfectly encapsulates that. There’s a lot of conflict between the piano and orchestra parts, and it’s pretty cool to be one person fighting against 100 other people on stage. There’s also moments in the concerto that are nostalgic, smoky, elegant, beautiful–and the fact that these moments are so rare make them even more memorable. Part of the second movement is a variation that has the sounds of a dark, icy Siberian winter. It will give one chills.

CB: When I interviewed you back in 2019, we talked a lot about your practice routine, the meaning of music to you, and also about your goals in life. Have your goals changed? Do you see anything very differently?

PvO: Because so much has happened in the last couple years I could never have expected or planned (musically related), I actually haven’t been one to set specific goals recently. With a career path in music, so much is out of your control except your ability as a musician. So my goal these days is just to be as good as I can be at the piano, and see what happens from there.

CB: Tell us about your education and your main mentors since you finished high school.

PvO: I’ve been at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music since January of 2022, and I’m now working with Garrick Ohlsson and Yoshikazu Nagai. I’ve studied with Garrick since I was 16, and just recently started studying with Yoshikazu Nagai. Knowing Garrick for this long, he’s had a huge impact on me and just been an amazing teacher, mentor, and someone I look up to. I can also say the same about my previous teacher here at the conservatory, Jon Nakamatsu, who I studied with during my first three semesters at SFCM.

CB: Lastly: what are some of the things (anything) that interest you the most outside music?

PvO: I like going to the gym a lot. It’s fun to keep pushing yourself and setting new goals all the time. When I have more time, I love adrenaline activities like riding rollercoasters or jetskis, and also doing challenging hikes. Nowadays, I am also pretty into watching movies, thrillers in particular.

CB: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to sharing your wonderful artistry with our audience members.

PvO: Thank you! Looking forward.

Parker Van Ostrand currently studies at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music with Garrick Ohlsson and Yoshikazu Nagai.

He recently won the 2023 PianoTexas Academy Concerto Competition and performed with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra this past June. In 2022, he won the Gold Medal in the 71st Wideman International Piano Competition and in November, collaborated with Yuja Wang for a two-piano performance at the SFCM Gala. Last summer, he was selected to play in the inaugural G. Henle Verlag Murray Perahia Masterclass in Munich. He also toured with the California Youth Symphony to Eastern Europe last summer with Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “The Age of Anxiety.” In 2020, Parker won Third Prize and the Best Sonata Award in the 10th National Chopin Piano Competition, and was one of 20 high school students nationwide named a 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.

This season, Parker will be performing with the Camellia Symphony, Symphony Parnassus, the South Arkansas Symphony, the Shreveport Symphony, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music orchestra as winner of their 2023 Concerto Competition. He will also give recitals at the Tutunov Series in Ashland, the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, the Washington International Piano Festival, and Gretna Music with violinist Amaryn Olmeda.

Parker is from Sacramento, CA, and previously studied with Linda Nakagawa, Natsuki Fukasawa, Sarah Chan, and Jon Nakamatsu. 

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