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Arts Desk

Rachmaninoff and The Philadelphians: A Musical Love Affair That Goes Back In Time

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Adrian Siegel Collection/Philadelphia Orchestra Association Archives
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Composer/pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and Eugene Ormandy during a rehearsal at the Academy of Music in 1938.

It was on March 18, 1927 that The Philadelphia Orchestra played the first performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4 at the Academy of Music. The composer revised the concerto in 1928. And, in 1941, The Philadelphians premiered yet another revised version—the final one.

As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, the strong bond between The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Russian composer, pianist, and conductor was forged through this and other works.

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Listen to Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about Rachmaninoff, Philadelphia, and the composer's 4th Piano Concerto. Jurowski led the Philadelphia Orchestra in a performance of the work in 2014.

Radio script:

Susan Lewis: In the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution, 44-year-old Sergei Rachmaninoff left his homeland in 1918; in the years that followed, he lived in Europe and the United States, with a busy concert schedule overshadowing his career as a composer and conductor.

Using music and ideas that had percolated for a decade, he finally wrote and premiered his Piano Concerto No. 4 with Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra. 

Vladimir Jurowski: It was written as a first work...after his immigration from Russia, which had a very strong knock down effect on him..

The name "Rachmaninoff" has been forever connected with the city of Philadelphia through Rachmaninoff’s presence here in the 1920s and '30s, Rachmaninoff’s friendship with the Orchestra, and his friendship with both music directors, first Leopold Stokowski and then Eugene Ormandy.     

SL: Rachmaninoff and the Orchestra played the premiere of a revised version of the concerto in 1941. Other Rachmaninoff works premiered by The Philadelphia Orchestra include Three Russian Folk Songs, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and Symphonic Dances.

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VJ: It was from the very first time I arrived in Philadelphia that I felt the spirit of this composer, and its still in the sound of the Orchestra.

SL: The Philadelphia Orchestra also made recordings with Rachmaninoff as pianist and as conductor.