Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Its Premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra:
Friday, January 31, 2020
The Penn Libraries and The Philadelphia Orchestra are coming together for a special evening program on January 31. The event will explore the only known recording of composer and pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff playing his last major orchestral work, Symphonic Dances.
The Russian-born musician famously refused to allow any recordings or broadcasts of his live performances, and as a result his public persona was restricted for decades to what listeners could glean from his poised, impeccable recordings through RCA Records. Then, in 2007, a researcher found an intriguing listing in the Penn Libraries catalog and shared it with producer Ward Marston. On listening to it, Marston realized they’d uncovered a long-hidden gem: a private recording of Rachmaninoff playing his symphonic work on the piano, shedding new light and nuance onto the composer’s artistic legacy.
The 1940 recording captures Rachmaninoff’s solo run-through of the work for Eugene Ormandy, then the music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, just weeks before the orchestra premiered the piece. It reveals not only the composer’s intentions for how it should be played, but also the subtleties and spontaneity of Rachmaninoff as a performer. Recognizing the recording’s significance, Marston restored it, digitized it, and released it on his label, in a production that the Wall Street Journal called “one of the most searing listening experiences in the history of recorded sound.”
Philadelphia Orchestra leaders Matías Tarnopolsky (President and CEO) and Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Music Director) will open the event with a conversation about the piece and its context in the orchestra’s history. Ward Marston, cofounder of Marston Records, will recount the history, discovery, and restoration of the recording found at the Penn Libraries. Then two pianists on the faculty of Swarthmore College, Andrew Hauze and Marcantonio Barone, will bring the evening to a close with a performance of Rachmaninoff’s two-piano arrangement of the Symphonic Dances.
The program will also be livestreamed on Facebook starting at 6:15pm on Friday, January 31.