Concert Review Essay
I recently attended a concert by Joseph Parillo with his special guest Christine Harrington. The concert was on October 20, a Saturday night in the Recital Hall in the Fine Arts building, here at the University of Rhode Island. Mr. Parillo played the piano, while Ms. Harrington accompanied him on the cello. I learned, upon my arrival, that the concert was actually a CD release celebration for their new disc, entitled Sandbox. Therefore, the bulk of the music played was from their new release.
The setting was typical of a concert, a plain stage, with simply a piano and a cello. The lighting was low, but a pleasant surprise was that the color of the lighting changed from song to song. That was interesting to me, as a person who frequents concerts by artists of the rock and roll persuasion. This is a tactic often employed by the technicians at rock concerts and it caught my eye. The attire of the musicians was relatively casual. Mr. Parillo wore a black suit, but just a simple t-shirt instead of a collared shirt and tie. He truly resembled the stereotype of a typical jazz musician in my mind. Ms. Harrington wore a casual blouse with black pants. That set the mood as quite informal. This was unexpected and I enjoyed it. I was expecting a much more uptight affair.
Another surprising aspect of the show was the opening remarks. These remarks helped to perpetuate the informal mood. Parillo did a short commentary about the album and how he came to work with Harrington. This commentary turned into a joke about working with a cellist his affinity for people in low places. Although his opening monologue wasnt Carson-esque by any means, it most definitely lightened the atmosphere.
There were no traditional program notes about the music. Parillo took that role on stage, explaining almost every piece before he and Harrington performed it. However, there were interesting biographies of the artists in the program, documenting their history with their instrument, including where and with whom they studied as well as their current activities and recent projects. Generally, before any of the rock concerts I attend, I try and find the artists website to get some information about the artist. I enjoy music and I enjoy learning about the artists to help me get into the mindset of the artists and enjoy their work. So, even though this isnt a typical concert for me, it was interesting for me to get to know theses artists prior to their performance.
The order of the program was very easy to follow. Parillo looked up and smiled after each song was completed; making it easy to know when one song ended and another began. Within the program the intermission was clearly indicated and the two songs that featured a bonus cello ensemble were specified, as was the one song that wasnt an original composition of Joseph Parillo.
The performance consisted mainly of fairly short, original jazz compositions by Joseph Parillo. It was Parillo explained before he began that these songs were all composed in one sitting, with very little revision. This was a challenge put before him by one of his mentors earlier in his career. The entire album consists of short songs reflecting his emotions that were not later revised. Parillo explained that this was difficult for him, and he found it hard to not go back and revise. This thought dominated my thoughts during the first few songs, wondering if he was still dying to revise, or if parts of the songs sounded like glaring errors to him. How would an artist get over this desire? It was quite distracting.
Parillo also made mention that this was his first extensive work with a cellist and he is used to composing for and playing with standup base. This was somewhat apparent in the way the base was used during the performance. There was a lot of short, quick tones from the cello, and very few extended tones. By this I mean the bowing was quick, short strokes. During Waltz + 1, Harrington employed pizzicato, plucking the strings like it was a standup bass.
All the pieces were meant to evoke some kind of emotion, because they all had titles implying emotion. Some were more programmatic than others, however. Songs like Day Dream and Clouds as well as Once Upon a Time are all pretty obviously programmatic pieces. The pieces from the new CD seem reflect some sort of carefree, happy, almost child-like emotion. It is aptly titled Sandbox, evoking memories from child hood.
One of the most interesting pieces was one that didnt even feature Joseph Parillo. It was composed by him, and entitled Play it Like it Is. The story behind it is that he is a jazz musician, whereas Christine Harrington is a classically trained musician. He plays from his head, where she reads the music. A joke he told goes as follows. How do you quiet a jazz pianist? Put music in front of him. Apparently Harrington had trouble at first playing with Parillo. He would never play a song the same way twice and she would tell him to play it like it is, hence, the title. The song was composed for four cellists. Harrington commented that she enjoys playing it because it is happy cello music. As a cellist, that is something she doesnt normally get to play.
I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, and I really didnt expect to. Honestly, I went into this show very closed-minded. I enjoyed Parillos sense of humor, his style was enjoyable and he was very fun to watch. I loved the fact that he discussed just about every song before he played it. Musicians, as whole impress me to no end. Guitarists, bass guitarists and drummers are the types of musicians I generally watch and they really leave me awestricken. Parillo left me just as awestricken as I am of Kirk Hammett, my favorite guitarist, if not more. Being completely musically untalented, I have the utmost respect for musicians in general, and the pianist is no exception. This was definitely a positive musical experience for me.
I chose to analyze this piece because Mr. Parillo explained before he performed it that it was meant to create to completely different, alternating feelings. This grabbed my attention and made me went to use this song for the observation.
The melody of the song is exchanged between the piano and the cello throughout the piece. That effect is a very conscious effort in this song, as indicated by Parillo before the song began. The song is meant to evoke a manic-depressive feeling and the alternating of the cello and the piano aids this.
The texture is most definitely polyphonic. There is a lot of imitation throughout the song. I cant tell exactly, but it seems like the whole song may be one long imitation. You could easily focus on the cello or the piano as the main instrument in the piece. It is almost as if the two melodies try to disrupt each other. It would be interesting to see what the melodies sound like independently.
There is little or no rhythm to this music, at least none that I can identify. Due to the fact that this is jazz, rhythm is inherently nonexistent or hard to pick up on.
The harmony is not very constant. There was a lot of dissonance. The piece seemed almost discordant. It sounds unstable during most of the composition. It sounds very harsh, like the two instruments were battling for dominance in the piece. I can not tell if the piece is in major or minor. I have no ear for music, and it is not indicated in the program.
There are crescendos and decrescendos throughout the piece, as it shifts from manic to depressive, as the title and Parillo indicate. The dynamics are really what makes this piece what it is. At some points the contrasts are subtle and at other times they are very sudden. This truly makes the emotional quality of the performance. It is meant to evoke two emotions from the listener and it does that job, well.
My best guess as far as form is concerned is that it is ternary form. It seems like the piano takes a form of A-B-A, while the cello is maintaining a form of B-A-B. I cant confirm that, in the slightest, but it seem like a repetition between the two instruments, with the repeating sections being completely opposite each other.
The timbre with regards to the piano is very important in the piece. It is as important as the dynamics. There are points when Parillo is banging very hard on the keys and other points when Parillo presses incredibly lightly. These two different timbres create a great foil for each other.
The melody of this song is maintained by the piano throughout the piece. The cello serves almost as percussion in the piece, just to maintain the rhythm, generate excitement at the climaxes and inject splashes of color in this composition.
The texture is homophonic. The piano is the main instrument in the piece. The cello takes a subordinate role. The whole composition maintains that texture.
Again, I can not figure out any rhythm in this piece, and once again, this is due to the fact that it is jazz.
There is a lot of dissonance in this piece also. I have no idea how to figure out what key something is in unless it is indicated in the program, which it was not. However, I dont believe the key shifts at any point. I do not know if it is in major or minor.
There are no crescendos or decrescendos, but the piece does seem to shift between forte and mezzoforte. They are very subtle contrasts. The dynamics do help, they maintain the playful mood of the piece.
I really could not discern form in the piece in the one sitting. It is advisable to not take wild guesses, so I will leave that as is.
The timbre of this piece and all the performances by Parillo and Harrington is exceptionally important to the mood it is trying to convey. The timbre by Parillo is most influential, however. Perhaps this is true in all cases with piano, but having never really listened to any piano pieces, I wouldnt know.