Yakov Kasman

A round-the-clock race to rescue the Rach

The Oregonian
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
David Stabler

At 6 p.m. Sunday the phone rang with the news every symphony manager dreads....

At noon Monday, Yakov Kasman's phone rang in Birmingham, Ala. Calmer was on the line, asking if the 37-year-old Russian could play the Rachmaninoff concerto in Portland that night. Kasman, who won the silver medal in the 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, was just about to begin a day of teaching at the University of Alabama. He'd never been to Portland, had never met Kalmar and had never played a concerto without a rehearsal. And this was Rach 3. He hadn't played a note of it since March.

One seat remained on a plane to Portland. It left in 90 minutes...

Kasman didn't hesitate. He would take the risk.

Within minutes of hearing that Kasman had agreed, the Oregon Symphony's communications department began sending e-mail messages to 10,000 symphony friends, started calling 1,000 Monday ticket holders and began preparing press releases for five radio stations, four TV stations and local newspapers.

Eight hours before the concert, Kasman's wife drove him to the airport. He wolfed down chicken and pasta in the car - the last food he'd have for 10 hours.

During the long hours in the air, Kasman went over the Rachmaninoff score in his mind. He had trouble remembering even which octave the main theme started in. He gave up in frustration.

Kasman's plane touched down in Portland at 7 p.m. Curtain was an hour away.

Calmer drove him straight to Schnitzer Hall. Immediately, Kasman went to the piano, sitting in the dark backstage. He seemed utterly focused. He talked to no one. He avoided eye contact.

He played for seven minutes, then huddled with Kalmar to go over tempos and transitions.

At 8 p.m., [Mr.] Welch, one of 2,354 expectant listeners, sat in row L of the balcony, mopping his brow. His friend had called him at work that afternoon, saying the symphony had found a soloist. Welch was skeptical. He'd never heard of Kasman, and he knew the Rach. Nonetheless, he dashed home, showered and changed.

It was crunch time. The stage manager gave the cue. Kalmar patted Kasman on the back and gave him a hug. Kasman, a small, compact man with a neatly trimmed beard, walked toward the Steinway concert grand piano. The audience, aware that the pianist had just landed in Portland, greeted him with a surge of applause.

Kalmar raised his baton and the orchestra entered. Kasman, keeping his eyes fixed on the conductor, lowered his hands to the keys.

What followed defies explanation.

From the first notes, Kasman sailed through the music, playing the massive chords with voluptuous tone and even inserting a playful quip now and then. He missed a few notes at the top of some breakneck leaps, but nothing that disturbed the music's texture. Most extraordinary, his playing transcended the notes, difficult as they were, and took on the natural, assured quality of a storyteller enjoying his tale.

The final, thundering chords had him standing straight up off the bench.

Welch rocketed out of his seat, shouting with joy. Around him, the audience erupted with cheers.


"Rachmaninoff's Piano Sonata No. 1 has become a sort of signature piece for Kasman. He has almost single-handedly resurrected a work that everyone else ignored; for now, it belongs to him as long as he cares to play it. For the French Calliope label, Kasman has recorded a boxed set of the complete Prokofiev sonatas; a disc with six Haydn sonatas; another set of five of Scriabin's ten sonatas; a pairing of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with Stravinsky's Petrouchka; and a rare release of both of Rachmaninoff's piano sonatas on a single disc."
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Kasman played delicately and powerfully as needed, with uncanny attention to detail, and with panache and flair. He opened with Nikolay Medtner's "Four Fairy Tales" followed by Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." The latter was a real event, inspiring a standing ovation midconcert - a rarity even for Fresno's generous audiences. Rachmaninoff's "Variations on a Theme by Chopin" (the latter the same C-minor prelude popularized by Barry Manilow) set the stage for another tour de force, Stravinsky's "Three Movements from 'Petrouchka,'" where Kasman became one with the ballet's diminutive but triumphant hero."
Fresno Bee

"...he gave an electrifying performance, filled with spirit, unpredictable outbursts, sudden depressions, sudden depressions, and thrusts to the outer limits: what a musician!"
Corriere della Sera

"The true climax of the afternoon came during the program's second half, when world-renowned pianist Yakov Kasman took the stage for Tchaikovsky's concerto Kasman does not so much play as live the music, and his generosity to the rest of the orchestra produced a truly memorable and balanced performance of lushly passionate work."
The Sun News

"...his scope, vision and virtuosity were all simply astounding (Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #3). In the lyrical, melodic passages his playing was subtle, tender, and highly musical. Where angst and despair were called for, he poured out heart and soul. And where power and virtuosity were needed, Kasman had them as well."
The Saginaw News