A Pianist Reaches Out
By Jo Lynn Orr
Artist-in-residence Yakov Kasman travels the world giving piano performances. Back in his office at UAB, he welcomes future performers and talented amateurs alike for personal instruction.
As a young artist, Yakov Kasman, D.M.A., faced many closed doors—which is why he works to open them for burgeoning musicians. Kasman, an associate professor of piano and artist-in-residence at UAB, is a tireless recruiter of students to a program that has steadily gained recognition both nationally and internationally (see slideshow below). He maintains a schedule of performances that takes him around the world, and he has instructed several rising stars in piano circles, but his students are often headed for careers far from the concert hall.
“I think every person has some sort of talent in classical music,” Kasman says. “The task of a teacher is to discover it, feed it, and help this talent to grow.”
(Story continues below slideshow. Click on the arrows at center right to view the slides.)
A Musical Journey
Kasman’s own talents brought him halfway around the world. He hails from Orel, a provincial Russian town about 220 miles south of Moscow. Although his family was not musically inclined, Kasman was able to sing and remember melodies from an early age. This prodigious ability gained him entrance into the local public music school, where he developed into a polished performer. Kasman earned a place at the prestigious Music College of the Moscow Conservatory, and then, after he completed his studies at the elite Moscow Conservatory itself, he was invited to join the school’s faculty.
By that time, Kasman was already a prize-winner in several major international piano competitions. But as a newcomer to the faculty, he was determined to prove himself—so he entered the Tenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1997 and won the silver medal. As a result of his victory, he received two years of concert engagements, which brought him to America. A performing visit to Huntsville, Alabama, led to an invitation to move to the United States permanently with his family—and, after a few years, to his current position at UAB.
One great benefit of teaching in the United States is the exposure to a broad range of students, Kasman says. “Some of my students are preparing themselves for careers as professional musicians,” he notes, “but some are just pursuing piano as a hobby, more or less. They are majoring in something else at UAB, but they don’t want to give up their musical studies.”
Listen to the Music
Click here to hear a sample of Kasman playing "June (Barcarolle)" from his CD Tchaïkovski: Les Saisons / Grande Sonate
Since 2007, Kasman and the rest of the faculty members in the UAB Department of Music—a group that includes his wife, Tatiana—have had a powerful magnet to attract prospective students. That’s when the department replaced all of its pianos—from instruments on concert stages to those in the lowliest practice room—with Steinway or Steinway-designed Boston pianos. Kasman’s own studio, which doubles as his office, is just large enough to contain two concert grand Steinways.
Kasman’s students include Kseniia Polstiankina, a finalist at major national piano competitions who traveled to UAB from Ukraine in order to train under Kasman. But the master musician often finds himself playing side by side with biology and nursing majors, too—students who share his love for music and can’t relinquish their obsession with the power of the piano. “Unlike any other instrument, the piano is an orchestra under your fingertips,” Kasman says. “It allows a musician to express so much.”
“The students come to me with the talent they have, and based on what I see, I try to find the best solution to develop it,” he explains. “To potential students, I always say, 'Come here and see who we are and what we are doing,'” Kasman says. “Just knock on my door.”