Ilya Yakushev

Saturday, February 17, 2024 · 7:30pm

Program included: Prokofiev, Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin

This will be Yakushev's fifth performance at Salon Piano Series, and he never ceases to enthrall our audience. He fit this tenth anniversary appearance into a busy schedule spanning three continents and multiple recording sessions.


Mozart Fantasy in D minor, K397

Beethoven - Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13

Rachmaninoff - Preludes

G sharp minor, Op. 32 No. 12

G minor, Op. 23 No. 5

C sharp minor, Op. 3 No. 2

Scriabin - Two pieces for the left hand, Op. 9

Prokofiev - Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83


The man never stops. Having barely escaped a snowstorm in in Colorado the night before, Ilya Yakushev arrived in Madison just in time to teach an afternoon masterclass before his fifth performance for the Salon Piano Series.

Ilya Yakushev won his first prize at age 12 at a Young Artists Concerto Competition in his native St. Petersburg. In 1997, he received the Mayor of St. Petersburg’s Young Talents award and, in 1998, the Russian Federation’s Minister of Culture presented him the National Award for Excellence in Performance.

Yakushev’s February 17 Salon program enthralled the packed audience with masterpieces from Austria and Russia: Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, and Prokofiev. He introduced Mozart’s “Fantasy in D minor as “one of Mozart’s weirdest.” Written during Mozart’s maturity, it remained unfinished and was completed by another composer. Yakushev said it reminded him of Beethoven because of its changes in tempos, dynamics, and in keys.

Beethoven was still relatively young when he composed the Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, the Pathetique. Although it follows a traditional 3-movement sonata form, it defies tradition by opening with a slow movement. The second movement, Adagio cantabile, is widely known as the theme song for the Karl Haas radio program, Adventures in Good Music.

The music world recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Yakushev offered three of his 24 Preludes. One of which, the C sharp minor, Op. 3 No. 2, crashes open with three descending octaves. Over time, Rachmaninoff began calling it the “It” Prelude, as audiences enthralled by its power and mystery would call out for an encore with “Play it!”

Alexander Scriabin composed Two Pieces for the Left Hand, Op. 9, to compensate for a right hand damaged by over-practice. Thanks to the Salon’s overhead cameras and projection screen, the audience could enjoy watching Yakushev’s mastery. One would never know, simply by listening, that one hand alone was producing such rich beautiful music. “I am not a lefty,” Yakushev said, “and Scriabin packs in some very difficult stuff.”

Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat major is the second of the composer's three so-called “war sonatas.” Yakushev had recorded this piece several years ago, and said he has just now come back to it. Or, one might say, he attacked it, full throttle. Its military percussiveness eventually yields to rich Gershwinian melodies one might hear in a fashionable smoking lounge, before returning to frightening scenes of battlefield chaos.

The relentless force and artistry of this evening’s performance inspired a loud and lengthy standing ovation, and Yakushev obliged with two encores. In 13 minutes he sprinted through the first encore, Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which conjures up scenes of urban bustle and traffic much in the same way as “An American In Paris.” The second encore, unannounced, left audience members asking What Was That? Its lovely melody sounded like a recent movie theme or a 1980s pop ballad. In fact, it was a piano adaptation of the Adagio movement of Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto.

Attired in a shiny black patterned shirt and black slacks, Yakushev acknowledge the applause with, “The atmosphere in this venue is magical. This place is always a highlight in my calendar. And thank you, Farleys, for being professionals.”

Just minutes after tonight’s concert Yakushev he was on the road again, to perform the following day in South Carolina. The man never stops.