Monday, November 24, 2014
Sergei Rachmaninoff in Kansas City (and other nearby places that may shock you).
When I wrote about Maurice Ravel's visit to Kansas City earlier this Fall, I became curious if any other "famous" composers or musicians had also come here during the first part of the 20th Century. So I did some research and discovered that Kansas City was in fact a destination for several other "big time" classical music luminaries. Sergei Rachmaninoff was one of them. Born April 1, 1873 in Novograd, Russia, Rachmaninoff was a gifted pianist, composer, and conductor. He certainly qualifies as "Big Time" in my book. He toured extensively and made many recordings during his career. The first piece of music by Rachmaninoff that I remember hearing as a kid was the "Vocalise" which he wrote in 1915....still one of my all-time favorite pieces. He composed 3 symphonies, 4 piano concertos, and many other works that have become absolute treasures, including the "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" from 1934. So how and why did he come to Kansas City? Rachmaninoff was what I would call a "road warrior"during his lifetime. He emigrated to the United States in 1917 with his wife and two daughters following the Russian Revolution which had taken away his estate and all of his possessions. He had to tour to support his family. So from that point until his death in 1943, he did little composing and a lot of touring....a lot.
According to Sergei Rachmaninoff, A Performance Diary compiled by Scott Davie and presented by the Rachmaninoff Society, he performed in Kansas City 6 times during his career. (This amazing document lists every performance he ever gave and in some cases, the program that was performed). His first visit to KC was March 19, 1920. The list does not indicate what theater or hall he played, nor the program. So I went to the KC Public library and searched through the newspaper archives. I found the review of the performance in the KC Times from March 20, 1920. The recital was at the Shubert Theater...now known as the Folly Theater. He played a program of Liszt (Dance of the Gnomes), Chopin Etudes (not listed), Chopin's B minor sonata, and Tchaikovsky's "Troika". It was not necessarily a glowing review however. Here are some interesting quotes from the reviewer, who was not named:
"His recital at the Shubert offers new sensations to music lovers", "Rachmaninoff begins where those of another caliber leave off" and "He has the detachment of creative genius". But my favorite quote was "An intellectual pianist, Rachmaninoff scorns display but dares to think".
Here are the dates of Rachmaninoff's recitals in KC:
March 19, 1920
January 25, 1922
February 12, 1924
November 19, 1925
December 5, 1933
November 15, 1938.
(I hope to return to the library at some point to look for reviews of his other 5 KC recitals).
It's interesting that all of these were recitals. "Why didn't he play his piano concertos with the Kansas City Symphony?...you may ask. I don't know all of the reasons, but I do know that his first five visits had to be recitals because KC did not have a symphony until November 28, 1933 when the KC Philharmonic was born. His 1938 visit is listed as a recital too...I don't know why he would not have performed with the KC Philharmonic on this date.
On the other side of the state, in St. Louis, Rachmaninoff made 27 concert appearances, 14 with the St. Louis Symphony, 1 with the Boston Symphony and 12 in recital.
Here are the St. Louis dates:
March 4, 1919 w/ Boston Symphony at the Odeon
January 13, 1920 recital
February 13, 1920 w/St. Louis Symphony
February 14, 1920 w/St. Louis Symphony
January 31, 1921 recital
November 10, 1921 recital
January 27, 1922 recital
December 13, 1922 recital
March 16, 1923 w/St. Louis Symphony
March 18, 1923 w/St. Louis Symphony
February 6, 1924 recital
January 27, 1925 recital
November 20, 1925 recital
March 12, 1930 recital
March 10, 1933 w/St. Louis Symphony
March 11, 1933 w/St. Louis Symphony
January 15, 1934 recital
December 14, 1934 w/St. Louis Symphony
December 15, 1934 w/St. Louis Symphony
November 15, 1935 w/St. Louis Symphony
November 16, 1935 w/St. Louis Symphony
November 27, 1936 w/St. Louis Symphony
November 28, 1936 w/St. Louis Symphony
November 14, 1937 recital
November 4, 1938 w/St. Louis Symphony
November 5, 1938 w/St. Louis Symphony
December 9, 1941 recital
So one of the premier pianists and composers of all time spent quite a bit of time in KC and St. Louis. But I was simply amazed at some of Rachmaninoff's other tour stops:
Hutchinson, KS March 17, 1920
Rolla, MO January 9, 1922
Topeka, KS January 23, 1922, January 29, 1925
Wichita, KS January 30, 1933, January 15, 1940
Columbia, MO November 13, 1935
Lawrence, KS February 15, 1937
St. Joseph, MO January 20, 1922
Hastings, NE February 9, 1940
Who would'a thunk it?!? It seems Rachmaninoff played just about everywhere! What a treat it must have been to see him perform. Not only was Kansas City at the forefront of the Jazz and Blues scene during the 1920's, it was also home to a vibrant classical music scene as well . And there were others who came here too. But that's for another post!
Rachmaninoff died in Beverly Hills, CA on March 29, 1943. Here are links to a couple of his best known works.
His "Vocalise" sung by Anna Moffo
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini