Photo courtesy Sam Rotman Sam Rotman, a concert pianist from Phoenix, will play a series of concerts in the central Kenai Peninsula this week in several churches.

Photo courtesy Sam Rotman Sam Rotman, a concert pianist from Phoenix, will play a series of concerts in the central Kenai Peninsula this week in several churches.

Classical pianist to play in peninsula churches

Sam Rotman plays the music of dead men.

To be specific, he plays the music of dead men from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Sergei Rachmaninoff, Claude Debussy and Wolfgang Mozart are all among his repertoire, but he especially focuses on Ludwig van Beethoven, sometimes playing entirely Beethoven concerts. The classical pianist has traveled to 60 different countries, played more than 2,800 concerts and will play a series of concerts on the Kenai Peninsula this week.

Rotman said he learned to love music from his mother, who could not play herself but simply loved to listen.

“She didn’t ask me if I wanted to play, she just wanted me to enjoy the music,” Rotman said. “I started piano when I was 9 … When I was 11, I really enjoyed it, and I decided I wanted to be a concert pianist.”

He said he became focused on Beethoven when studying music at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City through a teacher there. The year 1970 was the bicentennial of the composer’s birth, and Rotman said he wanted to play a series of concerts featuring only Beethoven’s music. He did so; now he is invited to play specifically Beethoven, he said.

One of the most remarkable things about Beethoven is that all of his pieces are still played, Rotman said. Other composers wrote hundreds or thousands of pieces of music, of which only a select few are regularly heard in concert halls today, he said.

“He was the first really, really professional musician,” Rotman said. “He began to just write music that was what he felt, not what he was supposed to write. I find his music very extreme. When it’s dramatic, it’s very dramatic. When it’s delicate, it’s very delicate. When it’s poetic, it’s very poetic. He seemed to be writing everything on an extreme level, because he wasn’t writing for entertainment. He was writing for the power of the human emotions and spirit.”

On his visit to the Kenai Peninsula, he will play in a number of churches in Nikiski, Kasilof, Kenai and Soldotna. A resident of Phoenix, Rotman was giving a concert last year when one of the attendees approached him and asked if he would be interested in playing some concerts in Alaska.

Each concert will likely be a mix of Beethoven and some of Rotman’s other favorites: Russian and French composers. The variety of different styles can be complementary, he said — for instance, Rachmaninoff and Debussy wrote music around the same time but took very different tacks.

“Rachmaninoff is very passionate and very strong and very opposite (of Debussy), but they were writing at exactly the same time,” Rotman said. “One is writing this very powerful Russian intense passionate music, and Debussy is caressing the keys and droplets of sound.”

One thing he won’t do is write his own music. The aversion stems from a composing class he took at Juilliard, where he learned he had no talent for writing his own sonatas, he said.

“I was a total disaster — I couldn’t burp out a good note,” Rotman said. “It was torture for (the teacher), for me. And after five weeks he saw me in the hall, he said to me, ‘Mr. Rotman, you’d be excellent at the music of dead men.’”

After decades of playing it, he’s still not tired of it. The passing time drills home an appreciation for it in him, he said. Many of the composers recognized their work as a gift of God and bore a “consciousness of the divine,” he said.

Rotman had his own encounter with the divine while at Juilliard and became a Christian, he said. He does not play Christian music, but he said he will share his faith story at the concerts on the Kenai. He will play at the First Baptist Church of Kenai today, Kenai Bible Church on Friday, Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna on Saturday and Lighthouse Community Church in Nikiski on Sunday, all at 7 p.m. except for the Nikiski concert, which begins at 6 p.m. The concerts are free and attendees can make freewill donations, he said.

About a week later, he’ll be on the road again. He travels 22 weeks of the year, but his concerts take him to havens of classical music like Poland or to places not typically associated with classical piano, like Cuba or Rwanda.

“I wanted to be a pianist, but to be honest, I’m very thankful, very humbled that the Lord has opened up this traveling and sharing,” Rotman said.

 

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in Life

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Let there be lights!

When I stopped in at one of our local stores, I didn’t cringe when I saw all the holiday decorations on display.

Cabbage, potatoes, salmon and an assortment of pantry staples make for a culinary challenge. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Take a culinary pop quiz

Get creative with what’s in your pantry

This undated John E. Thwaites photo, perhaps taken near Seward, shows the S.S. Dora grounded. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 3

Her long career had come to an end at last.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes I wonder, who needs who

Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

Meredith Harber (courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Don’t let termination dust bring you down

If I’m honest, this time of year is the hardest for me mentally and emotionally.

Pieces hang on display at the Kenai Art Center for the open call show on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘They felt like they could share with us now’

Art center open call offers space for new artists.

The Cosmic Hamlet Entertainment film crew prepares for a new scene to roll on the set of “Bolt from the Blue” at the Kilcher Homestead on Sept. 28. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
‘Bolt from the Blue’ film features Homer

“The Office” star Kate Flannery cast in feature film produced in Homer.

These old-fashioned doughnuts don’t skimp on the fat or sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Memories of old-fashioned doughnuts

My recipe is for old-fashioned doughnuts, and since I make these maybe twice a year, I don’t skimp on the sugar and fat.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: October is here again

The days are shorter. We are losing nearly six minutes a day. It’s getting colder.

This John E. Thwaites photo shows the S.S. Dora near Sand Point, Alaska. Thwaites sailed as mail clerk on the Dora between at least 1905 and 1912. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 2

The S.S. Dora touched lives on and became part of the history of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska.

Steller Sea Lions can be seen in an enclosure at the Alaska SeaLife Center on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska SeaLife Center to Alaskans: We’re still here for you

You rallied and kept us alive. Today, we’re writing to say thank you.

A wood-carved whale hangs in the Nikiski Senior Center on Sept. 23, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Nikiski Senior Center)
Whale of a job

Nikiski Senior Center gets addition to dining room.