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A Night Out With Pianist Ilya Yakushev

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

By Edie Johnson

If you were unfortunate enough to have missed the concert last Saturday night offered by SUNY Cultural Affairs, where Ilya Yakuchev got standing ovations for classical numbers and an extra helping of adulation for his amazing performance recognizing this year's century anniversary of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, be sure to put it on your bucket list to attend the next time he is in town.

With fingers flying and pounding. with passion, and moments where his body gave explosive punctuation to numbers by Mozart, Beethoven , Chopin and Gershwin, it was truly a night to remember at Orange Hall in Middletown organized by SUNY Cultural Affairs Coordinator Dorothy Szefc.

Whether you have seen Stuttgart Ballet, Chicago Symphony, New York Symphony or numerous other famous pianists, his are performances that will be deeply etched in your memory.

Each musical number was preceded by a brief historical explanation that put it in context. making it even more memorable. How many knew that Rhapsody in Blue was a number requested for an important New York City Event, and that Gershwin forgot to compose it until just a few days before the performance. Ilya Yakushev performed it as a special acknowledgement of Rhapsody's Century recognition and and mentioned Rachmaninoff's anniversary as well. The encore was Prelude I by Rachmaninoff.

He said that Mozart's Fantasia, the first of Yakushev's evening of performances, was created just a year before Mozart passed away, and it, along with several other pieces, was never finished. A colleague assisted in the last lines afterward, and still today musicians often reinvent their own version of the ending. This leads to an adventure for serious classical piano performance every time it is performed, for attendees, who are eager to evaluate and compare the differing interpretations. He described it as being full of contrasts and textures.

And then there was Beethoven's Appassionata (the 23rd). . It is considered to be one of the most difficult compositions . He had stepped into the middle of his career when he realized that his time on earth would be limited and he would probably not have the time to express musically all that he wanted to... and so he packed it into a piece so frantically that it is considered, despite its beauty, one of the most technically challenging musical numbers there is to perform (we definitely saw why). Beethoven lost much of his hearing during his 20's, and by the time he was 44 he was totally deaf, which makes this composition especially remarkable. Yakushev never missed a note despite unbelievable runs and frequently alternating arms over and under each other in near light speed. He was clearly exhausted when done, but in a good way, pausing briefly to catch his breath, and smile.

If you think this kind of concert music might be too "dry" or "older adult" music for a family to attend, we can attest that there was a beautiful 7-year old sitting right in front of us who was entranced with it. Even as Yakushev played Beethoven's crescendos as they wound up like a snake ready to strike, the young girl picked up the softer undertones and played her own mind's halftime version in the air, in perfect time with the concerto being played on the stage.

Not only were Yakushev's performances spectacular, but we were all invited to meet him afterward, and then treated to a memorable North East Watercolor Society members' 2023 Show which was on view in Orange Hall Gallery, It was impressive in both quality and a great diversity of styles and subjects. Stay tuned for another review,including a selection of samples.

At a special price of $5 for the entire concert at Orange Hall and the North East Watercolor Show, it was quite the gift from SUNY Orange Cultural Affairs.

Yakushev attended the Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music in St. Petersburg, Russia, and subsequently came to New York City to attend Mannes College of Music where he received BM and MM degrees while being mentored by the legendary pianist Vladimir Feltsman who was on the faculty of Mannes.

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