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Meet Christopher Parkening

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christopher Parkening.

The journey from childhood prodigy to becoming America’s preeminent guitar virtuoso and ultimately to his position as head of the guitar department at Pepperdine University can be understood through his biography, which follows.

Christopher Parkening is celebrated as one of the world’s preeminent virtuosos of the classical guitar. For over 40 years, his concerts and recordings have received the highest worldwide acclaim. The Washington Post cited his stature as “the leading guitar virtuoso of our day, combining profound musical insight with complete technical mastery of his instrument.” Parkening is recognized as heir to the legacy of the great Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia, who proclaimed that “Christopher Parkening is a great artist – he is one of the most brilliant guitarists in the world.” The Los Angeles Times has noted: “Parkening is considered America’s reigning classical guitarist, carrying the torch of his mentor, the late Andrés Segovia.”

Parkening’s rare combination of dramatic virtuosity, eloquent musicianship and uniquely beautiful sound has captivated audiences around the world. He has performed at the White House, appeared with Placido Domingo on Live from Lincoln Center, participated in Carnegie Hall’s 100th Anniversary celebration and performed twice on the internationally televised Grammy® Awards. Parkening has appeared on many nationally broadcast television programs, including The Tonight Show, Good Morning America, CBS Sunday Morning, The Today Show and 20/20. He has collaborated with composers John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, Joaquín Rodrigo, F. Morena Torroba and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and premiered new concert works in an effort to keep the guitar in the musical forefront. He was acknowledged as “Best Classical Guitarist” in the nationwide readers’ poll of Guitar Player Magazine for many consecutive years and was placed in their Gallery of Greats along with Andrés Segovia and English guitarists John Williams and Julian Bream.

Parkening has been guest soloist with the finest orchestras in the United States, including the Philadelphia, Cleveland and Minnesota Orchestras, the Chicago, Pittsburgh, and National Symphony Orchestras, the Detroit, Houston, Oregon, and St. Louis symphonies, the New York Philharmonic, the St. Paul and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestras, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. His extensive recital schedule has taken him throughout the country, with regular appearances in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Houston and Los Angeles. Performance highlights include appearances at the National Gallery with soprano Renée Fleming, Royal Albert Hall in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and with John Williams, Joshua Groban and the Boston Pops in a nationally televised broadcast for PBS.

Parkening has amassed an extensive discography on Angel/EMI Classics. He is the recipient of two Grammy® nominations in the category of Best Classical Album of the Year for Parkening and the Guitar and The Pleasures of Their Company, a collaboration with soprano Kathleen Battle. In October of 2000, EMI debuted his recording of Elmer Bernstein’s Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra with the London Symphony Orchestra, Elmer Bernstein conducting. In 1998 a multi-media CD was released, Christopher Parkening Celebrates Segovia. In 1996, Parkening and Battle combined their talents once again to record a Christmas album titled Angels’ Glory for Sony Classical. Other recordings include the critically acclaimed orchestral recording of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasia para un gentilhombre and the world premiere recording of Walton’s Five Bagatelles for Guitar and Orchestra, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; and Parkening Plays Vivaldi, which features a selection of Baroque concertos coupled with the world premiere recording of Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite with The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. In honor of Parkening’s 25th year as a recording artist with Angel/EMI Classics, a 2-CD collection, The Great Recordings, was issued in celebration of his prolific artistry. In 2007, Angel/EMI released the album, Jubilation, on which Mr. Parkening continues his long collaboration with baritone Jubilant Sykes, featuring some favorites of the many pieces they have performed together over the last fifteen years.

Parkening’s commitment to music extends beyond his performance and recording schedule. June 2006 saw the launch of the Parkening International Guitar Competition, honoring his lifetime commitment to fostering musical excellence in young artists. These competitions have featured performers from over 20 countries and bestows the largest prize purse of any guitar competition worldwide, with the finals including performances with orchestra (for details, see https://arts.pepperdine.edu/events/parkening. Recently, renowned film composer John Williams wrote and dedicated a solo guitar piece (“with great admiration for Christopher Parkening and the Parkening Guitar Competition”), which was given its world premiere at the June 2012 competition held at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where Parkening is Distinguished Professor of Music and Chairs the Guitar Department. He also taught an annual summer master class at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana for 35 years. He has authored The Christopher Parkening Guitar Method, Volumes I and II, basic pedagogy books for beginning and advanced players. Also recently published were the music folios, Christopher Parkening: Duets and Concertos, and Christopher Parkening: Solo Pieces. These editions, along with his entire collection of guitar transcriptions and arrangements, Virtuoso Performances, a performance DVD, are published by Hal Leonard Corporation. In the summer of 2006, his autobiography, Grace Like a River, was published by Tyndale House Publishers, Chicago, IL.

Parkening has received commendations honoring his dedication and artistry, including an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Montana State University and the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the University of Southern California “in recognition of his outstanding international achievement and in tribute to his stature throughout the world as America’s preeminent virtuoso of the classical guitar.” In addition, he was given the acclaimed American Academy of Achievement Award for excellence in the field of music both nationally and internationally. He also was presented with the 2000 Orville H. Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award for Best Classical Guitarist. Parkening received the University Musical Society’s “Distinguished Artist Award” for 2003 presented at the Ford Honors Program at the University of Michigan. In summer 2012, he was inducted into the Guitar Foundation of America’s (http://www.guitarfoundation.org) “Hall of Fame” and given their Artistic Achievement Award “for monumental contributions to the development of the art and life of the classical guitar.”

Christopher Parkening, his wife Theresa, and their son, Luke, reside in Southern California. At the heart of his dedication to performance, recording, and teaching is a deep commitment to the Christian faith. He is also a world class fly-fishing and casting champion who has won the International Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament (the Wimbledon of fly-fishing) held in Islamorada, Florida.

Has it been a smooth road?
I was playing upwards of 90 concerts a year all over the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia, with the goal in life of owning my own ranch and trout stream and retiring at an early age. My dad had retired at the age of 47, so I thought 30 would be a good age to retire! I found a beautiful ranch and trout stream in the southwest part of Montana and moved up there from Los Angeles to start to enjoy what I believed would be “the good life.” Amazingly, only a year after I got everything that I thought would make me happy, I became bored with my life, there was an emptiness inside, and I didn’t know why. I thought to myself, “If you have everything you’ve ever wanted in life and you’re still unhappy—what else is there?”

One winter, I decided to go to Los Angeles to visit some friends and family, and a former neighbor leaned over a backyard fence and invited me to a Bible-believing church where I heard John MacArthur preach a sermon entitled, “Examine Yourselves Whether You Be in the Faith.” He preached from Matthew 7 where Jesus says, “You will know a true Christian by their fruits or deeds. Not everyone who says unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven and many will say to Me when they die, ‘Lord, Lord . . .’ and I will say unto them, ‘Depart from Me, I never knew you!’”

When he spoke those words from the Bible my whole life flashed in front of me and I realized I would stand before Christ and He would say to me, “Depart from Me, I never knew you! You never cared about the things of Christ, you never cared about being obedient to My commandments, you never cared about glorifying Me with your life or with your music. All you cared about were your ranches and your trout streams. Depart from Me!”

Suddenly I realized I wasn’t a Christian after all. I had believed some facts about Christ, that He was the Son of God, that He died on the cross for the sins of the world, and that He rose again the third day. I believed all the right facts about Christ. And you know, I even wanted a Savior to save me from hell, but what I did not want was a Lord of my life that I should follow and trust and be obedient to. You cannot separate the Saviorhood from the Lordship of Christ. Jesus is both Savior and Lord.

So I gave my life to Christ that night for real and I asked Him to forgive me of my sins and to be my Lord and Savior, and by His grace alone He did save me. From that moment on, I had a great hunger for what the Bible had to say. I was reading the Bible one day and I came across a passage in 1 Corinthians that said, “Whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” And I realized there was only two things I knew how to do: one was fly fish for trout and the other was playing the guitar, and the latter seemed the better option to pursue. So I started to play the guitar again, but this time for a different purpose and that purpose was to honor and glorify my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Tyndale House Publishers gave me the great privilege of writing Grace Like a River, an autobiography that I hope will inspire and encourage young musicians, tell of God’s grace in my life through many trials and struggles, and share the precious Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

On my music stand at home I have taped a note that reads, “Chris, what are you here for?” Just as my touring guitar bears the scars of having been used to create music, I pray that my imperfect life will be an instrument in God’s hands for His purposes and to His glory.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Pepperdine University is ranked Number One in the Ten Very Best Colleges for Classical Guitar Performance by Music School Central (Julliard is ranked #2, and USC #3). https://musicschoolcentral.com/the-ten-very-best-colleges-for-classical-guitar-performance

As Distinguished Professor of Music, my objective is to guide my students toward a goal of concert performance while equipping them with a broad-based knowledge of academics and the music industry. I do my best to mentor my students by being a role model with an emphasis on their commitment to personal excellence which will enable them to glorify God with their lives and with the music they play.

When I came to Pepperdine, it had long been my vision for there to be a world-class guitar competition equal to the great piano and violin competitions. The vision became a reality and the Parkening International Guitar Competition was born.

The Parkening International Guitar Competition is the most prestigious classical guitar competition in the world, honoring Christopher Parkening’s lifetime commitment to fostering musical excellence in young artists as demonstrated by his mentor, the great Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia. The competition features cash prizes in excess of $65,000—the largest prize purse of any classical guitar competition. After three days of intense public performances, the winner of the Parkening International Guitar Competition receives a gold medal, a $30,000 cash prize, and a title that may skyrocket a classical music career and change the winner’s life forever.

The Young Guitarist Competition helps to identify outstanding young guitarists (17 years and younger) and encourages them to continue their performance careers and study. This quadrennial event champions and rewards long-standing traditions of musical excellence and offers the largest cash prize purse of any guitar competition in the world.

The Gold Medal Prize is sponsored by the famous movie producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy and is given in honor of Frank’s father and my musical mentor and cousin, Jack Marshall. https://arts.pepperdine.edu/events/parkening

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
In recent years there seems to have been a growing trend away from a legacy of beauty, warmth and lyricism in musical performance to a colder, more mechanistic style of playing. In some cases, the guitar has been reduced to a “miniature keyboard” instrument rather than the beautiful, expressive and poetic instrument that it really is. In dedicating myself in working with and training future generations of guitarists at Pepperdine, it is my goal to emphasize the importance of beauty, warmth, and lyricism in musical performance. The great Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia once said, “The beauty of the guitar resides in its soft, persuasive voice, and its poetry cannot be equaled by any other instrument.”

I have always loved the music of Bach growing up, but even more so when I read what he said about music. He said, “The aim and final reason of all music is none else but the glory of God.” Bach signed many of his compositions with the initials S.D.G., which stands for Soli Deo Gloria (“to God alone the glory”). Bach’s music reaches far beyond the sacred world—it has a universal appeal across all generations and style preferences.

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Image Credit:

1. Beth Herzhaft, 2. Christian Steiner, 3. Curtis Dahl, 4. Diana Addison Lyle, 5. Ron Hall, 6. Diana Addison Lyle

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1 Comment

  1. Edea Trapletti

    September 19, 2021 at 22:43

    I am too emotional to write a comment. My late husband, Arturo Trapletti and I were friends of the Frank Marshall’s family. We met with Mr. Parkening a few times at his concerts. Arturo was also a classical guitar player who admired Segovia and Parkening.
    Thank you for letting the world know the magic music coming from a simple guitar.

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