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Rachmaninoff 150

A Birthday Celebration and Historical Journey

As the world celebrates the composer’s 150th birthday, we reflect on his history with the DSO.

One of the last great representatives of musical Romanticism, Sergei Rachmaninoff frequently shared his gifts as a virtuoso pianist with Detroit audiences and enjoyed a friendship with Russian-born contemporary Ossip Gabrilowitsch—also a composer, conductor, and pianist, and the DSO’s music director from 1918–1936.  

In addition to recitals at Detroit’s Masonic Temple, Rachmaninoff had the honor of christening Orchestra Hall with a solo piano recital just two weeks after its opening in November 1919. In the Detroit Free Press, Gabrilowitsch was quoted as saying, “Not only is Rachmaninoff one of the greatest pianists of today, but as a composer he has his own powerful word to say. What has so seldom happened in the history of arts is true of Rachmaninoff—a great creative genius who during his lifetime already has achieved vast popularity.”  

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Three years later in November 1922, Rachmaninoff returned to Orchestra Hall for his highly anticipated debut as soloist with the DSO. In an all-Russian program at the height of his demand in the United States, Rachmaninoff dazzled in his Piano Concerto No. 3 under the baton of Gabrilowitsch. 

Rachmaninoff would go on to perform with the DSO on three more occasions: at Orchestra Hall in February 1937 for his Piano Concerto No. 2 conducted by Victor Kolar, and again under Kolar at the Masonic Temple in November 1939 (Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini) and December 1941 (Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor). Even after his passing in 1943, Rachmaninoff has remained an integral artistic figure to the DSO, with the orchestra performing his works on more than 300 occasions. Among the DSO’s recordings are a survey of Rachmaninoff’s three symphonies under Leonard Slatkin and a 1993 album of his Concerto élégiaque, Variations on a Theme of Corelli, and Vocalise under Neeme Järvi.  

This season, the DSO continues the legacy. Standing where he stood more than 100 years ago, we illuminate his expressive melodies and rich orchestral colors for a new generation to savor. 

You can hear works by Rachmaninoff performed by your Detroit Symphony Orchestra on Rachmaninoff & Brahms from October 13-15 with Music Director Jader Bignamini and Simon Trpčeski performing his Piano Concerto No. 1, Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony from December 7-9 with Jader Bignamini and Sergei Babayan performing his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, and Debussy & Rachmaninoff from April 5-7 with his Symphonic Dances conducted by Eric Jacobsen


Rachmaninoff put his genius, a famous theme, and allusions to a deal with the devil into his Rhapsody. Pianist Sergei Babayan plays it "full speed ahead to the very edge of a cliff" (BBC Music Magazine).

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