Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yakov Kasman... Superman of the Piano!!!

Yakov Kasman, has become a folk hero in Portland classical music circles after seizing the day with his daring 2004 rescue of the Oregon Symphony by playing one of the legendarily tough Rachmaninoff piano concertos.
I remember reading this story the first time around when the gifted pianist came to PDX and did the difficult, pinch hitting for the orchestra with the Rach 3, and it has resonated with me, whenever I think of what he did to perform as he did that evening...and he came back two years later, and did it again with the Rach 1 !!

Enjoy this story, and thanks to the Oregonian and their ace classical reviewer David Stabler for allowing this copywritten piece live again on this blog.

The Oregonian - Monday, March 13, 2006
Pianist flirts with the devil

Yakov Kasman returned to Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday for another triumphant performance of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto - proving his 2004 feat was no fluke.
Eighteen months after rescuing the Rach 3, Yakov Kasman returns to tackle No.1

By David Stabler
The Oregonian

The pianist Yakov Kasman moseyed across the stage of Schnitzer Hall with a hangdog look Saturday night. He bowed obediently without smiling and sat down.
The audience's welcome couldn't have been warmer - they remembered Kasman's daring, triumphant, improbable rescue of the symphony's Rachmaninoff's Concerto No.3 just 18 months ago.
Still, Kasman knew the demands that lay ahead of him, and his body looked as though it didn't want to cooperate.
But the moment he touched the piano, a great shuddering and exploding erupted. His hands shot across the keys, a blur of speed and almost predatory urgency. In the next 25 minutes, Kasman gave one of the more mesmerizing performances of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No.1 that I have ever heard.
Kasman's brilliant performance combined sheer aggression with swooning romanticism, confirming that he is a remarkable pianist- powerful, measured, deeply serious, but also a little dangerous. He flirts with the devil.
Now we know that his previous success in Portland was no fluke. Not that we thought it was, but we had to hear for ourselves. Kasman triumphed again in Schnitzer Hall and after hearing him twice, I'll never worry about this diminutive Russian pianist again. He can play anything, and we can let matters take their rapid course.
All through the Rachmaninoff Concerto No.1, brash and youthful compared with the magnificence of No.3, it was impossible not to link the figure at the piano with the earlier visit.
Then, Kasman flew across the country to Portland to substitute for injured pianist Louis Lortie. He went on without rehearsal, and after the performance, he slumped on a sofa in his dressing room, having played what he acknowledges was the concert of his life. When I shook his hand after the concert, it was limp like a jellyfish. His face was flushed. His watch pointed to midnight, Alabama time.
The day had begun with a phone call from the Oregon Symphony to his home in Birmingham. Could he fly to Portland and play Rach 3 that night?
Kasman had never been to Portland, had never met conductor Carlos Kalmar and hadn't touched the fiendishly difficult music for seven months. One seat remained on the plane to Portland, and it would leave in 90 minutes.
Kasman was on it.
His plane touched down in Portland at 7 p.m., an hour to spare. He was so focused, he didn't speak or even look at anyone. All he wanted was to touch the piano and huddle with Kalmar about tempos.

Details still fresh

He still remembers many details of the story.
"I felt dread and excitement. I had a kind of feeling - they don't know that I know it. I know that I know it even though the truth is, the last time I played it was many, many months ago. But that piece was always in my fingers"
Kasman doesn't remember the conductor nudging him through the stage door, but he heard the applause. "They know I just arrived in those circumstances. I know they don't expect too much, so I just relaxed."
But he also knew there was a tricky passage in the first movement that could derail him. If he and the orchestra got through it cleanly, he was home free.
They sailed through it.
The rest of the performance, give or take a couple of chords, defied reality. Kasman, whose child-size hands belie his power, played with a booming tone, matching the orchestra note for note.
Audience members leaned forward, shaking their heads. They couldn't believe what they were hearing. The final, thundering chords lifted Kasman straight up off the bench. People rocketed out of their seats, too, shouting with joy.
Kasman recalls the day after the concert. "I remember the sunny morning. When I left the hotel, I said, "OK, I did something very, very good last night." That was a great feeling."
And then it happened again.
Six month after his Portland triumph, Kasman's manager called. "What are your plans for this weekend?"
No plans.
"Would you like to play tonight in Charleston, West Virginia?"
"OK. What?"
" Rach 3"
Charleston is only 3½ hours from Birmingham, so Kasman actually had time to practice before boarding the plane. He arrived two hours before the concert. Again he sailed through the piece..
"I should keep my suitcase ready," he jokes.

Unfamiliar music

After his first Portland success, Charles Calmer, the orchestra's artistic administrator, asked him leading questions about his repertoire, which leans heavily toward Russian music: Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich.
Kasman, who won the silver medal in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1997, sensed an impending invitation.
Sure enough, it came a couple of weeks later. Kasman opened a letter from the Oregon Symphony asking him to play the first Rachmaninoff concerto: He didn't know the piece, but again, he didn't hesitate to accept.
Saturday's performance revealed no first time jitters. He and the guest conductor, Sweden's Stefan Solyom, synchronized phrases between piano and orchestra as if they'd played it together a dozen times, building a sympathetic partnership. After the brilliant embroidery of the first movement, the slow second movement sang a mournful song, both sober and ceremonial. Russian music loves Kasman as much as he loves Russian music.
In all, we heard power and temperament expressing themselves, a feeling for life that is both grand and painful. Kasman knows both. He suffered greatly in music boarding school and in the Russian army, where he spent two years mopping floors and peeling potatoes.
But he doesn't doubt himself, he says. The night he saved the symphony, he felt "anticipation of something extremely unusual, absolutely impossible. It will be a highlight of my whole life, that's for certain. Not only my concert life, but my whole life."


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