The flight of Yakov Kasman

The city of Portland is blessed. For 25 years, the symphony has managed to employ two of the top conductors in the world. And, considering how under-funded the arts are in Oregon, this is a nearly impossible feat – one that should be enjoyed by everyone. After James DePreist, Laureate Music Director of the Oregon Symphony, stepped down from his permanent position as conductor, the symphony was lucky to get Carlos Kalmar, director of music from Vienna’s Niederosterreichisches Tonkunstlerorchester.

Kalmar was the principal conductor in the prestigious Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago, and he was musical director for the Anhaltisches Theater in Dessau, the Stuttgart Philharmonic and the Hamburg Symphony. He has guest-conducted over 35 symphonies worldwide and, for the last two years, has made Portland his home.

Under Kalmar’s direction, the symphony recently performed a production of Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No.3.” At the last minute, Piano virtuoso Yakov Kasman was called in to replace pianist Louis Lortie, who was suffering from tendonitis in his hand. Kasman said, “[The Oregon Symphony] is an absolutely great orchestra. I was especially taken by its director Carlos Kalmar.”

When asked about his impressions of the evening, Kalmar, now in Vienna, said:

“The entire story of [Kasman] coming to Oregon that very day was like a dream; for us, because we could replace Louis Lortie, even though we had no chance whatsoever to rehearse with Yakov, which means an exciting ride anyway; and for him, because after such short notice, after the concert must have felt like ‘what did I just do?’ So I could tell him: It was ‘Rach,’ you did great!”

The day of concert Kasman was flown in from Alabama, where he lives and teaches at the University of Alabama. When Kalmar came onstage to introduce the evening and explain the situation, Kasman’s plane was still in the air. Directly after an 8-hour flight, Kasman stepped off of the plane and onto the stage.

“[The piece] was a favorite of mine since childhood,” says Kasman who has performed the piece more than thirty times in his career.

It was also an opportunity for the Oregon Symphony to have a chance to showcase its great talent.

The two nontraditional pieces played that evening preceded the Rachmaninoff piece and did not require the guest pianist. The pieces – Bohuslav Martinu’s “Memorial to Lidice” and Carl Nielsen’s “Symphony No. 5, Op. 50,” – were fine and gave the audience a chance to experience the symphony and its new conductor in top form. Martinu’s “Memorial to Lidice” was written about the slaughter of the entire male population of the small town of Lidice, Czechoslovakia. Nielsen’s romantic “Symphony No. 5, Op. 50” showed that the symphony was not afraid to play something daring. At one point during “Symphony No. 5,” the snare drummer “battles” the rest of the orchestra, moving off-stage and slowly out of sight.

It was during the finale that the orchestra proved themselves worthy of extended praise. At times, the players’ excitement rose to great proportions, nearly drowning out the main piano. With Kasman, the animated Kalmar led the group through something that, in range, is unparalleled in classical music.

Portland should feel blessed to have such skilled and accomplished musicians performing on a regular basis.

“No one could resist coming back to Portland after visiting,” Kasman said. “I will be more than happy when I get a chance to return.”