Born in 1947 in Los Angeles, CA; father was a musician and worked in real estate; married; wife's name, Barbara. Education: Studied guitar under Andres Segovia; attended University of California, Los Angeles, and University of Southern California. Addresses: Record company-- EMI/Angel, 810 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019.
Christopher Parkening is a renowned classical guitarist who has displayed dual facets of development in his career. Initially, Parkening concerned himself with the mastery of his instrument; he was a pupil of maestro Andres Segovia, who, according to High Fidelity, considered Parkening a brilliant guitarist, "one touched by the finger of God." Parkening's technical skill enabled him to perform in the most prestigious concert halls throughout the world while he was quite young. Even his critics acknowledged his status "as the only American classical guitarist to ever appeal to the general public in any significant way," as reported by Larry Snitzler in Guitar Player. But Parkening credits a spiritual renewal with the inspiration for an additional, religious aspect of his career.
Commenting on his early retirement from the concert circuit, Parkening stated to Terry Mattingly in Christianity Today, "I had played enough concerts to make enough money to buy the things I wanted to live 'the good life.' My dreams had all come true.... But I felt empty. The music I was making didn't mean anything to me." The world-class artist, hoping to integrate his religious beliefs into his music, was inspired to perform both secular and sacred compositions after reading a quotation from Bach, which Parkening often recalls when interviewed: "The aim and final reason of all music is none else but the glory of God."
Parkening was born in Los Angeles in 1947. Taught the art of practicing by his father, who was a musician as well as a real estate man, Parkening studied guitar from childhood. He made his formal debut at the age of 15 in a concert sponsored by the Young Musicians Foundation. After listening to a tape of the Parkening concert, Andres Segovia invited young Christopher to join his first American master classes at the University of California, where the young guitarist would later spend his freshman year of college. Parkening transferred to the University of Southern California his second year and was asked to teach guitar. The university eventually created a guitar department, which Parkening headed beginning in 1971.
The year 1968, though, was a pivotal one for Parkening. At age 20 he began his first series of concert appearances throughout the United States and Canada. The handsome musician also released the albums Guitar in the Classical Style and Guitar in the Spanish Style for EMI/Angel Records. Critical and commercial successes, the two albums were heralded as "extraordinarily beautiful" by reviewer Shirley Fleming in High Fidelity.
Throughout young adulthood, Parkening continued to win awards and attract attention with the release of the albums Romanza, Parkening Plays Bach, and an anthology of highlights from his earlier discs, The Christopher Parkening Album. The 1976 Parkening and the Guitar received a Grammy nomination for best classical recording, and Parkening's popular appeal merited him a citation in a Playboy article that read, "There's no more exciting classical guitarist than this slim, serious, twenty-four-year-old."
Despite his success, the demands of a rigorous concert circuit coupled with the need to transcribe ever more material to broaden the guitar's limited repertoire overwhelmed the exhausted Parkening. At age 32, he decided to retreat to a large ranch in Montana with his wife, Barbara. In retirement, he pursued his love for fly-fishing full time while teaching a master class once a year at Montana State University in Bozeman.
But the musical hiatus that had shocked his fellow performers ended when Parkening responded to a neighbor's suggestion that the guitarist attend a church service. In the church that morning, Parkening experienced a spiritual renewal, which he described to Mattingly as a realization that he could "glorify the Lord" better with his guitar than his fly-fishing rod. He related to Larry Snitzler that dissatisfaction with his life brought him to discover another aim. "It was at that point that I became a Christian and decided to play the guitar again, but for a different purpose. Instead of just playing to make the money and for the self-acclaim, I really, truly, in my heart, want to play the guitar again to try to glorify the Lord in some small way."
The 38-year-old artist returned to the realm of classical guitar in 1984 with the recording Simple Gifts, a collection of sacred music. Responding to "the breathtaking standard of technical perfection and sensitivity that has become [Parkening's] trademark," a reviewer in High Fidelity commented on the addition of a religious aspect to Parkening's work: "Parkening's playing reflects not only a love of the great tradition that informed it, but also the religious inspiration that occasioned the creation of so many classical masterpieces." His first recording with an orchestra, A Bach Celebration for Guitar and Orchestra, was also made in 1984 to honor the composer whose tricentennial commemoration followed the next year.
During the 1984-1985 season, Parkening began a successful collaboration with opera soprano Kathleen Battle. After performing in concert together, the two issued a recording titled The Pleasures of Their Company, which earned a Grammy nomination for best classical recording in 1987. A reviewer in High Fidelity called Parkening's accompaniment "the jewel in the crown," offering "such extraordinary pleasures that one hopes further collaboration will follow."
Though most reviewers agree that Parkening plays superbly and find little to criticize in his work, some question his selective repertoire, noting his exclusion of contemporary music and his construction of "suites" from pieces that are personal favorites. These critics complain that "his repertoire is always chosen from a rather narrow band of pieces that are usually very lyrical, conventional in harmony, and structurally predictable," as summarized by Larry Snitzler in Guitar Player. When Snitzler asked Parkening to respond to such criticism, the musician maintained, "I've got to be true to what I believe in and what's in my heart. I don't desire to be phony, in terms of the music I'm playing. So, for that reason, if someone doesn't like the fact that I'm not playing avant-garde music, for example, I'm sorry that I'm disappointing them. But I still won't play something that I dislike just to please people, per se."
Parkening remarked in 1987 that he hopes to "mine the riches of centuries of sacred classical music and to bring this music to the stage and recording studio," as quoted by Mattingly. In addition, Parkening would like to transcribe or commission transcription of works written for other instruments and for voice. He has continued recording, releasing an album with David Brandon in 1991 titled Virtuoso Duets, and he has plans to cut a set of Spanish albums.
Commenting to Mattingly about the problems of reconciling the secular and sacred aspects of his work, Parkening stated, "You're always walking the thin line between music that pleases the purists, yet is music you want to play.... I want to play hymns and other forms of religious music, yet I don't want to play gospel music. I want to play music that is 'classy' enough for the concert stage. I am part of the classical music tradition. I must use the gift I believe God has given me."
by Marjorie Burgess
Christopher Parkening's Career
Classical guitarist. Made formal debut at age 15. University of Southern California, head of guitar department, beginning in 1971; recorded first album, Guitar in the Classic Style, 1968, for EMI/Angel Records; began making concert appearances at age 20. Taught a master class at University of Montana.
- Selective Works
- Guitar in the Classic Style EMI/Angel, 1968.
- Guitar in the Spanish Style EMI/Angel, 1968.
- Romanza EMI/Angel, 1969.
- Parkening Plays Bach EMI/Angel, 1972.
- The Christopher Parkening Album EMI/Angel, 1973.
- Parkening & the Guitar EMI/Angel, 1976.
- A Bach Celebration for Guitar and Orchestra EMI/Angel, 1984.
- Simple Gifts EMI/Angel, 1984.
- (With Kathleen Battle) The Pleasures of Their Company EMI/Angel, 1986.
- Guitar Recital EMI/Angel.
- Sacred Music for Guitar EMI/Angel.
- (With David Brandon) Virtuoso Duets EMI/Angel, 1991.
- Billboard, January 5, 1986.
- Christianity Today, May 15, 1987.
- Guitar Player, February 1988; January 1991.
- High Fidelity, January 1969; February 1973; July 1987.
- International Musician, March 1974.
- Keynote, November 1986.
- New York Times, February 17, 1974.
- Playboy, September 1972.
- Stereo Review, May 1974.