Piano Prodigy


Staged feb 15

Tatiana, Sasha, and Yakov Kasman with Van Cliburn in 1999

19-year-old Aleksandra Kasman is already wowing us.

by Phillip Ratliff 

 

Though 19-year old pianist Aleksandra Kasman has eclectic musical tastes, it’s the Russian composers that top her list of favorites. “My mom says that I must love Prokofiev’s music because when she was pregnant with me, my dad was working on the second set of Prokofiev’s sonatas to finish his project of recording all of them on CD,” Kasman says.

Kasman’s dad is Yakov Kasman, who has established an international reputation as a concert pianist since winning the Van Cliburn silver medal almost 20 years ago. It was when she was performing with her famous dad in 2011 that I first saw her. Sasha, as she’s known by family and friends, was just 15. The New York Chamber Music Ensemble was backing Sasha and Yakov. I, incidental to this scene, was in the audience penning a review, which emerged more an unapologetic gush. A youngster, that good!

I saw Sasha three years later, after UAB contracted me to teach an honors class. It was the first day of class, and I was standing before a dozen students calling roll. I stopped when I got to her name.

“Kasman. I reviewed you.” I said. (I’m paraphrasing, slightly, at this point.)

“I know!” Sasha said.

“It was a good review, I recall.”

“It was. Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. You earned it.”

Our classroom was the UAB Honors House, a renovated church adjacent to the Alys Stephens Center and not too far from where Sasha’s father has been teaching piano for more than a decade. The Kasmans began their journey from Russia to Alabama in 1998, seven years after the Soviet collapse. Sasha recalls family stories about what a difficult time it was for her family, and everyone living in Russia during that tumultuous transition. “People’s lives were turned upside down. Those who had savings in Soviet banks lost all of them. The value of the ruble was very low. People could not afford to buy imported goods. There was a shortage of many products in general because the whole system was broken,” Sasha says.

Then a stroke of luck forever changed their lives.

The Van Cliburn Competition medal earned Yakov Kasman a concert tour, which included a stop in Huntsville, Alabama. In attendance was an engineer named Bill Lindberg.  Lindberg, a man who loves classical music to the point that he has a concert hall in his home, was so enthralled with Kasman’s playing that he arranged to move the Kasman family to Huntsville, and for several weeks, to put them up in his home. Sasha was 3 years old.

As Sasha recounted the story, I felt a spark of recognition. I told Sasha a story from a time she would have been too young to remember with any detail. “The Orange County Symphony Orchestra engaged your dad to perform a piano concerto composed by American composer Lukas Foss,” I said. “Bill wanted someone to document the entire experience so put me up in a hotel room in California and that’s more or less what I did.”

Lindberg worked other deals like this on Yakov Kasman’s behalf. Under Lindberg’s patronage, Kasman spent a couple of years in Huntsville before moving to Birmingham. Soon afterward, Sasha, at age 6, began her studies with her mother, Tatiana, herself a gifted pianist and pedagogue. Sasha became a big sister to Dina, now also a pianist, and graduated from Vestavia High School with a host of performances and a French Club presidency on her resume.

Almost a year after she walked into my class, Sasha and I met again in the UAB music building. I asked her what she was working on. Composing, and another competition, she said, the next stage of the Music Teacher’s National Association competition in Knoxville, Tennessee. Sasha won the state-level MTNA in the young artist category last October, and she’s gearing up to compete at the southern division level against nine other contenders. “Competitions are sort of an artificial performance experience. You’re being judged in comparison to the people playing before and after you, even if you are all completely different performers. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, and every judge has their own preference,” Sasha says.

After all that the Kasman family endured to get to Alabama, it would seem the family might reasonably conclude that they have, at long last, arrived. Yet here is Sasha, also pressing forward, into situations I would find nerve-racking. “I do get nervous before performances, but every time it’s different because it depends on a lot of factors. I have seen, however, that over time I get less and less nervous overall. Some performances I don’t worry for at all; rather, I’m excited because I can’t wait to share the music I love with the audience, and I walk out on stage and project all of my hopes, thoughts, and feelings out into the hall,” Sasha says.

One Response to “Piano Prodigy”

  1. Mary Jane Curry says:

    Dear Sasha,

    Thanks to Tania Adams, I just read this lovely story here in Dubai and am sharing it with friends who love music. I knew when I met you as a little girl in Huntsville that you had a wonderful imagination. I am very happy for you and all your family.

    All best wishes,
    Mary

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