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Spotlight on Nick Parnell


Celebrated as one of the most exciting vibes players in the world today, Nick Parnell makes old music new again, injecting energy into a repertoire that might be familiar to some, but definitely inspirational to all. With a spirit of recklessness, Parnell takes one of the newest of classical instruments and gives it a genre-bending makeover.

Steel yourself for his mallets of musical mastery as he presents Vibes Virtuoso at Riverside in May. Featuring guest pianist Michael Ireace (Winner of the 2008 Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition), this concert has something for everyone with favourites such as Gershwin’s Summertime, Albeniz’s Tango and Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. Ahead of this extraordinary inspirational and energetic show we look at Nick’s life and achievements.

Born in the Australian outback town of Orroroo, Nick Parnell began teaching himself drums in his parents’ sheep shearing shed at the age of ten.

Such humble beginnings ignited a passion in Parnell that has led to accolades including first place in the International Melbourne Percussion Competition, the Centenary of Federation Medal awarded by the Australian Government (for contribution to the arts) and the Dame Roma Mitchell Churchill Fellowship.

Parnell underwent formal training at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide (Australia), where he completed his PhD. During this period he also studied and undertook master-classes with many of world’s great percussionists including Uffe Savery from the famed Safri Duo, Evelyn Glennie and Gary Burton.

A creative spirit who believes a greater level of artistry is possible, Parnell very quickly became attracted to the musicality, subtlety and beauty of the vibraphone, to which he has applied his dexterity to become one of the world’s great vibraphone virtuosos. However, his talents extend across a range of percussion instruments – 50 at a guess – including marimba, tuned gongs, bamboo chimes, cymbals and various exotic ethnic drums.

Parnell continues to strengthen his performing skills with a cache of international ensembles – including the English National Ballet, Russian Ballet Company, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Australian String Quartet. He has appeared at the Australia High Commission (UK & KL), Melbourne Recital Centre, Sydney’s City Recital Hall, and was the first solo percussionist to play in the Art Gallery of NSW’s prestigious Resonate concert series.

Festival appearances include Adelaide and Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, International Canberra Chamber Music Festival, Musica Viva, Adelaide Contemporary Music Festival, International Barossa Music Festival, Womadelaide and Australia’s first International Percussive Arts Society Festival.

Over the years, Parnell has proudly shared the stage with a number of inspirational artists, the likes of concert pianists Simon Tedeschi, David Helfgott (as immortalised in the biopic Shine) and Michael Kieran Harvey (1993 Ivo Pogorelic Piano Competition joint winner), shakuhachi grand master Riley Lee (TaikOz), didgeridoo virtuoso Mark Atkins (Led Zepplin/Philip Glass) and marimba soloist Bogdan Bacanu (Austria). He has worked with many distinguished conductors including Gunther Schuller, Lorraine Vaillancourt and Olari Elts.

A renegade on many fronts who actively embraces the crossover between different music genres, Parnell was the featured soloist in the ASO’s 2006 Edge series where he performed orchestral versions of rock songs. He has given numerous performances for ABC Classic FM’s National Sunday Live programs and made Australian premieres of new compositions including Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür’s percussion concerto, Magma.

Parnell attracted world-wide attention by recording one of the world’s first solo classical vibraphone albums, Classical Vibes, for ABC Classics in Australia, which followed his debut album, Generally Spoken It’s Nothing but Rhythm. His subsequent performances were met with critical acclaim. Also a passionate educator, Parnell has presented hundreds of master-classes from schools to universities including the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Elder Conservatorium of Music, West Australian Academy of Performing Arts and University of Melbourne.

As one of the first musicians to bring the vibraphone to the attention of the classical music world, Parnell’s ongoing ambition is to break down the elitism of classical music and make it available for everyone to enjoy.

Don’t miss your opportunity to see Nick Parnell, the “rockstar of the vibraphone” perform Vibes Virtuoso at Riverside on Sunday 29 May at 3pm.


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