Geoffrey Parsons AO OBE 1929 – 1995
- Geoffrey Parsons AO OBE 1929 – 1995
Geoffrey Parsons AO OBE 1929 – 1995
Geoffrey Penwill Parsons was born in Sydney on 15 June 1929.
In 1947 he won the ABC’s Concerto Competition. Parson’s first major professional engagement came in 1949 when he was engaged as an accompanist and ‘associate artist’ for an extensive national concert tour by visiting Australian baritone Peter Dawson.
‘One of the great accompanists in the world happened to be an Australian,’ wrote his pupil andfellow musician, Guy Noble. ‘Until his untimely death in 1995 he was the pianist of choice for many of the world’s greatest singers in recital. I still miss his wicked sense of humour and his amazing musicality. He was able to make every singer feel entirely comfortable and supported. As Janet Baker said of their work together, “It was just like coming home.”’
Geoffrey Penwill Parsons was born in Sydney on 15 June 1929. From 1941 to 1948 he studied under Winifred Burston at the NSW State Conservatorium, though he originally intended to be an architect. In 1947 he won the ABC’s Concerto Competition. Parson’s first major professional engagement came in 1949 when he was engaged as an accompanist and ‘associate artist’ for an extensive national concert tour by visiting Australian baritone Peter Dawson. Early the following year Parsons joined Dawson in Britain for a six-concert tour. This led to an engagement with the popular duettists Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth – and permanent residence in Britain.
At first, work was hard to find, so between his few concert bookings, Parsons provided background music in fashionable cocktail lounges. His break came in 1955 when he deputised for the revered Gerald Moore for a concert by the veteran German baritone Gerhard Hüsch. It worked so well that Parsons moved to Munich to be Hüsch’s personal accompanist. Parsons described the experience as ‘the best possible school that I could have had.’ He also studied there with Friedrich Wührer.
In 1961 Parsons was chosen by Walter Legge to accompany Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at the Royal Festival Hall. He later became her principal accompanist. Other world ranking singers with whom he worked included Joan Hammond, Victoria de los Angeles, Nicolai Gedda, Rita Streich, Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hotter, Janet Baker, Thomas Allen and Jessye Norman. He also accompanied many of the great instrumentalists, Nathan Milstein, Paul Tortelier, Ruggiero Ricci and Ida Haendel among them.
The encouragement of younger artists became feature of the latter part of his career. His experience was treasured by younger singers such as Thomas Hampson, Olaf Bär, Barbara Bonney, Yvonne Kenny, Bryn Terfyl and Felicity Lott.
Parsons recorded extensively and travelled widely. He performed in more than 40 countries on six continents. Between 1957 and 1993 he toured Australia 31 times, and conducted several master classes at the State Conservatorium of New South Wales. In 1973 he played for Birgit Nilsson in the first recital in the Sydney Opera House. His last performance in Australia was with Olaf Bär in Schubert’s Winterreise at the University of Melbourne’s Melba Hall in 1993.
Parsons garnered many honours. He was Prince Consort Professor of Piano at the Royal College of Music. He became an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1975, and the Guildhall School of Music in 1983. He received the FRCM in 1987 and was the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist of the Year in 1992. He was awarded the OBE in 1977 and the AO in 1990.
Geoffrey Parsons died in London on 26 January 1995. With the support of the University of Adelaide’s Elder School of Music, the Accompanists’ Guild of South Australia administers the annual Geoffrey Parsons Award. This is designed to encourage young Australian concert pianists to study as either accompanists or opera repetiteurs, and to emulate Geoffrey Parsons’ pioneering achievement in these often neglected areas of music.
Frank Van Straten, 2007
Richard Davis: Geoffrey Parsons – Among Friends, ABC Books 2006
Ian Holtham: ‘Geoffrey Parsons’, in The Oxford Companion to Australian Music, OUP, 1997
Guy Noble: The Music Explorer, ABC Books, 2003