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Catherine Parker Remembered
by Jan Jezioro
The Buffalo Chamber Players host a musical tribute to the late artist
The Buffalo Chamber Players and friends will honor the memory and celebrate the life of artist Catherine Parker, on Saturday, January 5 at 11am, at St. Joseph University Church (3269 Main Street) in Buffalo.
Born in 1926, Parker, the daughter of the Charles Burchfield, was raised in Gardenville. After attending art school in Kansas City, she lived in Colorado, Texas, and California, before moving back to Buffalo in 1983, where she spent the rest of her life as a culturally and socially active working artist, nurturing both young and established artists in every medium. She long hosted a popular salon for her friends, artists, and other creative people in the community.
While living in Texas, Parker, who studied the cello, played for several seasons with the San Antonio Symphony. During the last decade of her life, her knowledge and love of classical music led to a remarkable collaboration with Buffalo composer Roland Martin and the Buffalo Chamber Players that inspired her to create some of the most original paintings of her long artistic career. It is never easy to escape the long shadow of a famous parent, but the late paintings inspired by her musical collaborations firmly established her as an original and visionary artist.
Martin recalls that his first collaboration with Parker, A Northeast Gardener’s Year, “came about after she had asked me several times about doing something together, and finally on a day we were going blueberry picking, she asked again. I agreed, and the result was a series of 12 paintings, one for each month. The cycle was already composed for soprano, cello, and piano, but I was about to embark on a version with women’s chorus, so the paintings happened in conjunction with that. We enjoyed the way it was received by the public, and the calendars which were issued with the images of the paintings proved to be very popular.
“Afterwards, Catherine said, ‘Let’s do another, but this time a real collaboration, where we work simultaneously.’ So she suggested the poetry of Pablo Neruda as a starting point, and let me choose the poems, as many or as few as I wanted or felt I could set to music. I asked her what the musical medium would be, and she said she liked the combination of the earlier set—soprano, cello, and piano.
“As it took shape, the cello wasn’t fitting in too well, so I tried viola, and that worked perfectly. In selecting the poetry, I looked for common themes, most prominently the rose, but also the sea and the night. We had great fun with it, and she always asked to come over and hear what I was working on so she could respond and react to it, not just aurally but visually, to the notes on the page. She had me come over frequently to see her work in progress, as well. In this way, we were working not only from the poetry as an inspiration, but from each other’s work. This was a true and thorough collaboration, and the result was some of the most satisfying work either one of us experienced. I believe this set of nine paintings is the pinnacle of her oeuvre. She had, after all, always wanted to paint a series because she felt the continuity would be a creative inspiration in itself, and I felt the same.”
The performance of the cycle, Rose Beside the Water, was well received, as was the handsomely produced hardcover book that paired reproductions of Parker’s paintings with Neruda’s poetry.
“Our third collaboration was a cycle on selected poems of the metaphysical poet George Herbert,” says Martin. “A sacred cycle, although the poems are unrelated, except in authorship. Called Such Glorious Gifts, it exists in two versions, one for chorus and one for chorus and orchestra. We will perform one of these songs at her memorial service—appropriately, ‘Easter.’”
The poet Peter Siedlecki, whose Waterbirds poems inspired Parker’s series of paintings of the same name, will join in the tribute, as will soprano Colleen Marcello and members of the Freudig Singers and the St. Joseph University Parish Choir.
One of Parker’s strongest series of paintings was conceived to accompany a performance by the Buffalo Chamber Players of Olivier Messiaen’s haunting Quartet for the End of Time. The largest audience in the group’s history experienced the power of her visual imagination, as the projected images of her paintings managed to add a new dimension to this uniquely powerful work. Pianist Martin, who will be joined by violinist Amy Licata in the performance of the work’s final movement, says, “Catherine was full of energy and endless enthusiasm, and she was genuinely interested in everything and everybody, making it very fulfilling to work with her.”
For more information, visit www.buffalochamberplayers.org.
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