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Pauline Lerner

Yevgeny Kissin in Performance: Rave Review

April 30, 2007 at 5:09 AM

I heard the extreme virtuoso pianist Yevgeny Kissin about two years ago (see my blog, April 8, 2005) and it was such a high powered experience that I could not pass up a chance to hear him again. I heard him earlier this month and was swept up and away all over again. Virtually every seat in the concert hall at the Kennedy Center, from the cheapest to the most expensive, was occupied, and the crowd was wildly enthusiastic.

The concert started with Schubert’s Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, D.568. Most of the sonata was melodic and lilting, but there were storm-like bursts of intense emotion. I thought of Stephen Brivati’s recent blog in which he bemoaned the fact that so many people believe that Haydn’s music should be played with little emotion because he lived before the Romantic era. Kissin’s emotional outbursts always seemed completely unanticipated, and he had the audience glued to him. His next piece was Beethoven’s Thirty-Two Variations on an Original Theme in C minor. The opening measures showed Beethoven’s angst at its most intense. The music seemed almost violent at times. I had a mental image of a large, four-legged creature stalking its prey, and suddenly, the music became quiet and lyrical, floating along like a great, placid river. Kissin then played Six Piano Pieces, Op. 118 by Brahms. Most of the Brahms didn’t grip me emotionally, but there was one brief, intense segment that pulled up some strong feelings I’ve been struggling with recently. I hoped that experience would be cathartic. The program concluded with the well known, incomparable Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22 by Chopin. Kissin’s performance was flashy and exhilarating beyond words. I wondered how anything could possibly succeed that as an encore.

When the programmed concert ended, another performance began. The audience’s reaction was tumultuous. People clapped, shouted, even whistled for a long time. I have rarely heard an audience respond to classical music like that. It was something I’d expect at a ball game or a rock concert. I lost track of the number of encores Kissin played. It was 7 or 8, making his total solo performance two and a half hours long. Many of his encore pieces sounded familiar to me. I believed they were popular encore pieces with such varied sounds that they must have been written by several different composers, but I was wrong. When the concert finally ended and I stood in line to get Kissin’s autograph, I spoke to a Russian woman who told me that all the encore pieces were by Chopin. She said that she has been listening to Kissin for years, since he was a “wunderkind” in Russia. I also spoke to a Korean graduate student who said that this was his first time hearing Kissin. He was so impressed that he decided to go to Philadelphia next week to hear the pianist again and to Carnegie Hall in about a month to hear him a third time.

I wondered how Kissin could have had so much inner strength and energy to put on such a stunning performance. Then I decided that it wasn’t just Kissin, it was what I would call, for lack of a better word, the Spirit. The Spirit made itself strongly felt through Kissin. It was the Spirit which moved through each of the composers and, years later, through Kissin, the piano he played, the air in the concert hall, and each one of us who heard him. Once again, I knew that music is my religion and that I was ecstatic.

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