Another opportunity to see a world-class pianist play mind-bendingly difficult pieces came our way this Sunday afternoon when Van Cliburn silver medalist Yakov Kasman took to the stage at CSU’s Edna Rizley Griffin concert hall. We chose seats with a view of the pianist’s face rather than his hands this time, and were taken aback back by the stern, almost disapproving expression as he strode to the bench. That look dissolved as soon as he began to play, though, replaced by intense concentration, enthrallment, and occasionally something bordering on playfulness or levity. At this point I began to practice a technique I’ve been exploring for music-listening. I clear my head and try to open myself to whatever the music may stir in me. Almost immediately I’m swept away, before I even think to look at the program to see what I’m listening to. The music is intensely varied, and I find moments and emotions from my childhood welling up in me – a summer day with my grandfather in the British Virgin islands, a field behind our house in Menlo Park. This continues through movement after movement, until I feel almost as if my life has passed before my eyes. After the performance has ended and Yakov has left the stage, I open my program to see what music I’ve just absorbed: “The Seasons” opus 37-bis, by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
After the intermission Yakov returns in the same manner and plays Rachmaninov’s Sonata No. 1, opus 28 in D-minor. I attempt my absorbing technique again, but I find I’m saturated, and the piece is too much for me. I struggle to come to terms with the impossible tornadoes of sound flying out of the massive Steinway. I relent and let it wash over me. After the final chords Yakov rises, the almost remorseful expression returning, and gives a perfunctory series of bows. I can’t reconcile the contrast between his manner of bowing with his playing. I still don’t know what to make of it, but I know I have again witnessed a remarkable and unique human event. In fact, I almost feel ashamed, as if I’ve selfishly used up a little bit of this artist’s life. Perhaps it’s just the Russian demeanor playing with me, but I can’t shake it.