According to the Sikorsky Aircraft company archives, “One Sunday [in 1923], a chauffeur-driven limousine drove up to the chicken house [where the fledgling Sikorsky company was desperately trying to take flight]. A tall, slender figure in a long black coat stepped out of the car and walked up to the airplane. In total silence, he inspected the aircraft. Everyone on the farm got greatly excited ...they all immediately recognized Sergei Rachmaninoff as their guest. After about a half-hour visit, Rachmaninoff said ‘I believe in you and your plane, and I want to help you.’ The composer sat down and wrote a check for $5,000 (about $100,000 today). With a smile, he gave the check to the stunned Sikorsky and said, ‘Pay me back whenever you can’.” Igor Sikorsky did, with interest. He also asked Rachmaninoff to be the company’s first vice-president.


We can thank Rachmaninoff’s fascination with airplanes, helicopters, motorboats and especially automobiles for the Piano Concerto No.3. He composed it at his country home in Russia before an American tour during which he famously had to practice this most feared of concerti on a silent keyboard aboard the ship to America. As he wrote to a friend: “I don’t want to go. But then perhaps, after America I’ll be able to buy myself that may not be so bad after all.” He did make enough money to buy his first car in 1912 and apparently bought himself a new one each year after that. After the concerto’s 3rd performance with Gustav Mahler conducting the New York Philharmonic, the New York Herald wrote:”Mr. Rachmaninoff was recalled several times in the determined effort of the audience to make him play again, but he held up his hands with a gesture which meant that although he was willing, his fingers were not. So the audience laughed and let him retire.” Proving that even Rachmaninoff was exhausted by this concerto.

For April’s NSO Showcase, celebrating Rachmaninoff’s 150th birthday (April 1, 1873) we’ll present a performance of the 3rd Piano Concerto from November 2018 that had Kennedy Center audiences and critics cheering. It was a double NSO debut—for Mexican conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto (Musical America named him Conductor of the Year the following year) and pianist Denis Kozhukhin, winner of the 2010 Queen Elisabeth Competition.  Reviewers raved about a superb, breathtaking performance. As The Washington Post wrote: “What Kozhukhin offers is a 21st-century take on Russian fireworks, dazzling and strong yet emphasizing musicality over circus tricks, even in the astonishing cadenza.”

NSO Showcase

We’ll round out the program with an audience favorite, Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony and Kennedy Center Composer- in-Residence Carlos Simon’s “The Block,” a musical description of a block in Harlem depicted in Romare Bearden’s artwork.

NSO Showcase airs Wednesday, April 5, at 9PM ET, and is available on-demand online.

Learn more about the life and music of Rachmaninoff

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