Anyone doubting that Evgeny Kissin’s Carnegie Hall recital was indeed a big event need only have shown up at the hall as I did—ticketless, mere minutes before the house-lights dimmed. The September 30 concert, which was the young Soviet pianist’s North American debut, had sold out, and scores of would-be concertgoers—Russian émigrés, aging piano groupies, and music students—crowded the sidewalk, each of them scheming for a seat inside. Although some of these have-nots seemed coolly confident about getting what they wanted, there was also a swarm of manic music lovers prepared to accost anyone who might wish to part with a ticket.

Of these swarmers, I must have appeared immeasurably the most desperate—or the most gullible. I had only just posted myself near the center of action when I was approached by a couple who, in respective size and demeanor, bore a...


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