When talking via Zoom in late March, the conductor and bassoonist was calling in from a hotel room in Kansas City. I actually came up here to buy a very specific contrabassoon, which is sitting right over there,, he said, pointing to the gruesome woodwind behind him. So soon, Parnther would play the score for the highly anticipated Disney+ series (premiering May 27).
The contrabassoon looks like a weapon, and its tone is as deep and otherworldly as Jabba the Hutt's voice.
"I think it was played in [from 1977'S Star Wars]," Parnther said, without missing a beat. "That's a rather bassoon-looking instrument."
As much as Parnther, he played bassoon on the scores for Episode IX The Rise of Skywalker (by John Williams), Rogue One (by Michael Giacchino), and Solo (by John Powell); and he conducted Ludwig Goransson's score for the hit Disney+ series, as well as the music for the follow-up,.
Parnther, who was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in the 80s and 90s, would go on to study music and Northwestern and Yale, eventually ending up in Los Angeles, where he has performed various musical lives. In addition to playing on or conducting numerous films, he has served as the cover conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl.
On April 24, Parnther will perform as the guest conductor of the famed Gateways Music Festival Orchestra, which also performs in the hallowed New York arena for the first time. Founded in 1993, the seasonal orchestra includes entirely black musicians, who remain underrepresented in classical music. After Parnther's long-time musical director died in August 2021, he seemed the perfect choice to perform.
He is amazing on the podium and in real life, Lee Koonce, president and artistic director of the Gateways Music Festival. He is like a force of nature. Hes such an enormous presence. And many people have met him in Hollywood, according to Lee Koonce. They also saw him. He was thorough in his work ethic.
The, which Parnther inherited from Morgan, will include works by Brahms, as well as the late composers George Walker and Florence Price. For the premiere of his new artwork, Carnegie Hall's 2021-22 Perspectives artist and the latest Album of the Year Grammy winner will join the orchestra on piano.
Parnther traced his journey from Lynchburg to Hollywood, shared his views on the piece's conduct in New York, and expressed his disgruntled grin about the absence of public spaces for Black American classical musicians: "It's a good idea."
How did you get to the bassoon, which doesn't seem to be my first instrument, like a musically inclined kid?
I remember hearing the lady on the intercom saying, "Will all members of the middle school band go to King's Dominion" for their rides. In Virginia, when they returned, they were like, "Oh, and by the way, we're going back next year." I'm not kidding me? Star Wars? Kings Dominion? I'm in!
So what I did next is I opened the dictionary as one does to figure out what instrument I'll be playing in the band. I opened it to the A section of and saw the bassoon. "No, I need an instrument that people will respect and think is really cool," says the band director. So, I took my little dictionary the next week and I saw the accordion. "I'm sure I'm thinking about it. But it's different.
You went to Northwestern and then Yale where you studied conducting. Did you know at that point that you wanted to make a career out of it?
I knew that I wanted to do both playing and conducting. Because I had so much admiration for Leonard Bernstein, and sometimes he sat at the piano. I tried to take up the piano, and was pretty miserable at it. I still am to today. I am so grateful that you have the authority to play your instrument as well as you can before instructing others to play their instruments.
What are the differences between directing a Hollywood score and conducting a symphonic orchestra for a concert?
But the main difference in general, not always is that when I'm writing a film, the composer is usually 20 feet away. And alive. (Not that I always do the music of deceased composers for symphonic orchestras.) But they are very different responsibilities. Today, my responsibility is to Ludwig Goransson [composer of the Mandalorian and Turning Red, among many other scores]. And then the next day, my responsibility is to Ludwig von Beethoven. I actually made one
Do you think you can't take as many liberties as the film composers? Does it make it more of a collaboration? How does their presence affect the music?
I'm not sure that even if I perform Beethoven or Mozart, it's my job as a conductor to take liberties. I'm not really aware of that. Now I know that there are other conductors who are enormous into creating their own imprint, but I'm not really aware that if I'm looking at the score, most of the answers are in what the composer has written. Obviously, this is not always the case, but there are instances in which you have to know what the intent at
How was your involvement with the Gateways Festival Orchestra erected?
Ive spent years studying the gateways Festival Orchestra for at least 15 years. And Michael Morgan, a long-time music director, was a conductor of international reputation. So, when I was beginning as an undergraduate, I realized that he was capable of performing at the Carnegie Hall concert. I was so honored that, of all the wonderful conductors the Gateways Festival Orchestra could have hired me.
Rehearsals will likely premiere the week before the show. Be sure to include my impressions of the various pieces you'll perform?
Michael and the orchestra had chosen this program, but I was incredibly grateful to pay attention. The Brahms themes are particularly interesting from Haydn's theme. [Laughs] That being beside the point, the Brahms themes are quite different from each other. It's a collection of well-known songs from the nineteenth, twentieth, and 21st centuries. It's also an important component of the literature, which is, therefore, it'll be our opportunity to breathe life into in such a way
And then, we'll go to Walker and Price. George Walker is the first Black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize. I think people will see it to be meticulously written, meticulously scored, and very expressive. This one is especially turbulent and jarring from start to finish. The Florence Price is a piece that I haven't seen before, and then, finally, we'll wrap up the whole concert with "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
Given the lack of representation of Black musicians in symphonic orchestras, how does the Gateways Festival Orchestra's mission to showcase the talents of black musicians resonate with you?
Because there's a myth that there is a lack of qualified black classical musicians. But I can tell you that the lack is not in the capacity of those who I know and am aware of, and that when you hear Well, I just don't know any qualified black musicians, you're about to see a 100 orchestra of them in the same spot. So, I think that this is a safe space in which a whole community of musicians who share cultural charm and beauty.
Do you think you were halted after coming up in this field because of bias or for racist reasons?
I'm only hoping that as long as I get through my entire career, people will realize that a qualified musician is a professional musician, and that the difference between privilege and underprivilege is opportunity. And that, given opportunity, people who are not normally in some of these spaces can prosper.
The interview was edited for clarity and detail.