Rachmaninoff & Friends: Introducing Our New Chamber Series

‘Melody is music,’ wrote Rachmaninoff, ‘the basis of music as a whole, since a perfect melody implies and calls into being its own harmonic design’. The Russian composer, pianist and conductor’s passion for melody was central to his work.

It is exactly this that we shine a light on in Rachmaninoff & Friends – our chamber music series from LSO St Luke’s with BBC Radio 3. In January and February we will hear music from Rachmaninoff and his contemporaries performed by Simon Crawford-Phillips and Philip Moore, Trio Wanderer, Olena Tokar and Igor Gryshyn, and Boris Giltburg.

Serge Rachmaninoff

Serge Rachmaninoff was born in a small town called Oneg, in southern Russia in 1873. His father was a retired army officer, and it was expected that the young Serge would also join the army. However, his father squandered the family fortune, so this career option was no longer a possibility. Who knows what would have become of Serge Rachmaninoff were it not for his cousin Alexander Siloti, a well-known concert pianist and conductor, who sensed the boy’s musical talent. Rachmaninoff was sent for piano lessons with Nikolai Zverev in Moscow, and he later went on to study at the Moscow Conservatory.

Whilst there he proved an outstanding piano pupil and began to study composition. His early works reveal the influence of the Russian romanticism of composers Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, although he rapidly forged a personal, richly lyrical musical language. Rachmaninoff became world-famous as a virtuoso pianist (with hands spanning twelve piano keys), and as a composer, writing pieces for solo piano and piano and orchestra. Today his works have been transposed for different combinations of instruments.

Rachmaninoff hands 600
Source: Classic FM

Friends & Contemporaries

Perhaps because Rachamaninoff’s music is often melancholic people assume that the composer was a solitary character. In fact, the opposite was true. From his days at the Moscow Conservatory studying with Alexander Scriabin, to time spent in the émigré community of artists in the US, Rachmaninoff had friends across the globe. In this series we will hear music from Russian composers like Igor Stravinsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Sergei Prokofiev.

Of his Russian contemporaries Rachmaninoff was a great admirer of Stravinsky and decided he would like to befriend the composer. When he heard Stravinsky casually mention how much he liked honey, Rachmaninoff saw an opportunity to win the composer’s friendship: he knocked on his door in the middle of the night and presented him with a large jar of honey. Prokofiev, like Rachmaninoff, left Russia for the US to escape events of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the two becoming regarded in the public eye as pianistic rivals. And other composers of Rachmaninoff’s time including Alma Schindler-Mahler (whose husband was also a composer – Gustav Mahler). Rachmaninoff first met the Mahlers on his New York debut in 1909 and the families soon became good friends. Schindler-Mahler wrote some beautiful, tender songs which we will hear performed by Olena Tokar on Friday 11 February.

Stravinsky and Prokofiev
Rachmaninoff's contemporaries Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev.

Music Beyond The Pages

Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances: Although originally written for orchestra, Rachmaninoff wrote a version for two pianos soon afterwards which he and Vladimir Horowitz first performed at a private party in Beverly Hills in August 1942. (Friday 14 January 1pm

Stravinsky arr Victor Babin Three Movements from ‘Petrushka’: Stravinsky’s Petrushka was originally conceived as a ballet but has also been re-written for piano. It tells the story of the loves and jealousies of three Russian puppets who come to life. (Friday 14 January 1pm)

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov ‘The Nymph’: Although best known as an orchestral composer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote some enchanting songs including ‘The Nymph’ a romance about a nature spirit. (Friday 11 February 1pm)

Alma Schindler-Mahler Laue Sommernacht: Alma Schindler-Mahler was inspired by the poetry of German writer Gustav Falke, whose words she used to write the sensual song Laue Sommernacht (Mild Summernight).(Friday 11 February 1pm)

Prokofiev Piano Sonata No 2 in D minor: Prokofiev himself was the pianist for the world premiere of his Piano Sonata No 2 in Moscow, 1914. (Friday 11 February 6pm)

Rachmaninoff at the piano


Listen to music in the series


Find out more about the Rachmaninoff & Friends series and book tickets 

Friday 14 January 1pm (Simon Crawford-Phillips and Phillip Moore)

Friday 11 February 1pm (Olena Tokar and Igor Gryshyn)

Friday 11 February 6pm (Boris Giltburg)

Tickets: £15 (£13 concessions, £5 under-18s)

£0.60 online booking fee, £0.70 telephone booking fee per transaction
- click here for more information on booking fees

Concerts are recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

bbc radio 3 web

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Programme notes

Our programme notes are available to read digitally for free, and will be available for the whole season.
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