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Screen_Shot_2012-06-21_at_12.17.55_PMHearing Health Resources

UAB Pianist Yakov Kasman Lights the Hall with Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue"

yakov090812The Maestro’s Ball, the gala fundraiser that opens Alabama Symphony seasons, is mostly about style.

Patrons decked out in formal wear, a gourmet dinner, and a flow of monetary contributions annually help to sustain an orchestra that is thriving musically on a relatively meager budget. This year’s affair, hosted by Kelly and Lee Styslinger, brought in $686,985.

And who better than George Gershwin to jump-start a symphony orchestra after a summer of silence? Swaying lyricism, memorable tunes that ooze nostalgia, and rhythms that induce finger-snapping and toe-tapping filled Jemison Concert Hall Friday night. Christopher Confessore, ASO’s principal pops conductor, is the ideal interpreter of this music. He understands its nuances, its grandeur and its sentimentality, and relished each.
The overture to the 1930 musical “Girl Crazy” excerpted “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You” and other notable melodies. If “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” pumped up the adrenaline, “Lullaby” brought you back to earth with its lovely, muted melodies. Robert Russell Bennett’s orchestrations of selections from “Porgy and Bess” were played with precision and lightness.

But it was “Rhapsody in Blue,” perhaps Gershwin’s best-known orchestral work, that lit up the hall. Yakov Kasman, the UAB pianist whose specialty is music from his native Russia, was the soloist, and there was an undeniable Russian-ness that seeped into this performance. Backed by a spacious orchestral sound and swaggering clarinet, trumpet and trombone solos, Kasman was raucous at times, outlandish at others, often glossing over scale runs at blinding speed. Yet never was this performance lacking for riveting entertainment.

The pianist seemed to be having a rollicking good time, and so did the audience, which rose immediately to applaud. A bit of Moscow on the Hudson? Perhaps. Style to match the rest of the evening? Most definitely.

(by Michael Huebner - Birmingham News)