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A REEL GUITARIST : Christopher Parkening Sees a Connection Between Music and His Other Love, Fly-Fishing

April 22, 1993|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes often to The Times Orange County Edition.

Is there some metaphysical connection between guitar strings and fishing line? When the question was posed at a lighthearted moment during a recent phone interview, virtuoso fly-fisher Christopher Parkening chuckled, then said there is.

"It takes a great amount of discipline and hard work to play a musical instrument well, and the same applies to casting a rod," said Parkening, who appears as guitar soloist with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on Friday at the Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, in a concert sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society.

"In both pursuits, personal excellence is the goal rather than success. That's something I always try to communicate to my guitar students." Parkening teaches a master class each summer at Montana State University in Bozeman. "Then after class I sneak away to go fishing."

Parkening won first prize at the Wimbledon of fly-fishing, the International Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament in Islamorada, Fla., in 1987--the same year he received a Grammy nomination for best classical recording for his collaboration with soprano Kathleen Battle. Recent releases include "A Tribute to Segovia," his teacher, recorded using one of the maestro's guitars.

In Friday's concert, Parkening will be featured in adaptations for guitar and strings of a Vivaldi Concerto in D and British composer Peter Warlock's "Capriol Suite," both of which Parkening will record with the academy next month. Also on the program are Benjamin Britten's "Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge" and a string orchestra performance of Johannes Brahms' String Quintet in G. The artistic co-director of the academy's string ensemble, Iona Brown, will conduct.

Parkening is still excited about events leading up to his latest release, a recording of works by Joaquin Rodrigo with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Rodrigo attended performances of the music at the Royal Festival Hall in London as part of his 90th birthday celebration, then met with Parkening the next morning at Abbey Road Studios before recording sessions began.

"I had studied the Fantasia para un gentilhombre with Segovia, for whom the piece was written, and Segovia had made changes," Parkening recalled. In general, the composer warmly embraced the changes. "He said that Segovia knows the guitar better than he does."

But apparently the printer had also made changes, modifying a chord to make it less dissonant.

"Rodrigo leaned over and said, 'I prefer the dissonance; it is more Rodrigo.' So now I play it with the dissonance. But everybody who is used to hearing it the other way is going to think I made a gigantic mistake!"

The highlight of the session turned out to be Rodrigo.

"He went over to the piano to play the adagio movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez. His daughter guided his hand to the first note of the piece. He played so serenely beautifully. We tried to capture that feeling on the recording.

"It was as if Chopin or Rachmaninov had come to play just as a pianist was about to go in to record his music."

If a river runs through Parkening's art, it is his abiding Christian faith. Emulating Bach, he dedicates every aspect of his life and music to "the glory of the Lord." The guitarist even frets less than most people if he doesn't catch fish.

"You can change your technique, the pattern of the fly, the time of day you go out," he reflected. "But you're out there in God's creation and under God's providence. I've learned from the Bible that 'in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content.' "

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