Keyboard Concerts preview: A chat with acclaimed pianist Roman Rabinovich, who hopes to spin some fantasies

In music, a “fantasia” is a composition with roots in improvisation. But there is more than one way to spin a fantasy. Roman Rabinovich, the acclaimed concert pianist, has constructed an intriguing program for his performance with the Philip Lorenz International Keyboard Concerts series (7:30 p.m. Friday, March 17) that uses fantasy as a theme. I popped into a Fresno State practice room on Thursday to talk with Rabinovich for a few minutes about his career and the concert. Here are Five Things to Know:


Fantasy means just what you think.

Rabinovich has always been drawn to the idea of improvisation. In fact, one of the pieces on his program, Couperin’s “Unmeasured Prelude,” written for harpsichord, is different every time – the composer provides the notes but no directions in terms of rhythm, duration, etc. But his program is more than just a salute to improvisation. It’s natural for people to experience music in different ways. Some paint mental images in their minds. Others take away a mood or feeling. In exploring the theme of fantasy, Rabinovich chose pieces that lend themselves to improvisation on the part of the listener.

“I am a visual person,” he says. “I find having visual narratives helpful for me. Sometimes a story helps, but it’s not always the same recipe. It depends on your mood, on your state of mind, on the day, on the piece. We find new meanings every day in the same pieces.”


The resulting program is eclectic.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had a program extend across a 400-year time span,” says Andreas Werz, artistic director of Keyboard Concerts.


Rabinovich kicks off the concert with Byrd’s “The Battell,” a 16th century piece inspired by medieval battle. It marks the beginning of independent keyboard music, and Rabinovich is amazed at how a pioneer of the form was able to compose such a full-fledged, complete work.

The newest piece on the program is a piece by Rabinovich himself titled “Sonatina.” The four-movement piece includes reflections on such musical inspirations as a lullaby he sang to his daughter when she was little.

“I wanted to create something that reflected the music I love most,” he says.


Two of the pieces have “fantasy” in the title.

Rabinovich will perform Chopin’s “Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major, Op.61,” and Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major, D.760, “Wanderer.”

“The song is about a wanderer who feels a stranger everywhere he goes,” he says of Schubert’s piece.

Both have a gallivanting, ambling feel.

As with all the pieces, there’s no “right or wrong” interpretation that a listener can take, no matter the story behind the music.


The pianist brings an impeccable pedigree to Keyboard Concerts.

Born in Uzbekistan, Rabinovich’s family moved to Israel when he was a child, and he made his his Israel Philharmonic debut under Zubin Mehta at age 10. He was the winner of the 2008 Rubinstein International Piano Competition. The first two volumes of his complete Haydn Cycle on First Hand Records have been released to critical acclaim.

After moving from Israel to New York, he now resides in Calgary. He and his wife, the violinist Diana Cohen, are co-directors of ChamberFest Cleveland as well as the newly inaugurated ChamberFest West festival in Calgary.


Rabinovich has really cool green glasses.

Seriously. They’re small, round, thick-rimmed and very green. I hope he wears them for the concert.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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