Ed Parmentier has been here so long we sometimes take him for granted. But given his talent and stature, that is something we ought never to do. Since he joined the U-M School of Music faculty in 1976, the long, lean harpsichordist has not only run its harpsichord studio and taught its Baroque music orchestra, he’s performed several solo and chamber concerts a year plus played harpsichord for the Choral Union’s annual Messiah. In every case Parmentier brings his blend of bravura technique and charismatic interpretations to the music, and the results are always wholly compelling.
Yet if familiarity has not bred contempt, it has come close to breeding indifference. To help local audiences remember what a great player Parmentier is, I recommend checking out his performances on Saturday, March 27. Parmentier will be playing twice that day. His first recital will be part of what he calls Michigan Harpsichord Saturday. “It’s my outreach so kids can be all over the harpsichord,” he explains. “My students and I are in six classrooms in the School [of Music], and people can stop in and hear a harpsichord being played, or get free lessons, or just mess around. And in one classroom, I’ll be playing for three hours”–from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
His second recital will take place that evening in the music school’s Britton Recital Hall, a joint concert with faculty violinist Aaron Berofsky. The harpsichordist vividly recalls the first time he heard the violinist. “I was playing on a program with the Ann Arbor Symphony, and before we started I saw this young-looking fellow sitting where the concertmaster usually sits. He was tuning, which is usually not very pretty to listen to, but he was making these gorgeous sounds: pure, crystalline, and in tune. I thought the world of his playing, and a few years later we had another joint project, and he asked me to play with him.”
Since then, Parmentier reckons he and Berofsky have played three duo concerts together, the most recent being a Brunch with Bach recital at the Detroit Institute of Arts. For their March concert, Parmentier says, they’ll be playing “three of Corelli’s sonatas, plus sonatas by two other composers whose last names end with an ‘i’: Locatelli and Veracini. Those mid-18th-century Italian guys are all about bringing it to the edge as far as is possible in terms of technique.” He’s not kidding. Late Baroque Italian composers wrote some of the most technically advanced and excruciatingly difficult violin music before Paganini–and they didn’t hold back when it came to the harpsichord part, either.
The notes themselves will be no challenge for Parmentier, but the spirit of the music may be. For a player best known for his imposing Bach and impressive Byrd, switching to the more extravagantly expressive Italians could be a challenge. The only way to know if he rises to it is to show up.