Baltimore's Rachmaninov Memorial



     A large memorial to the greatest artistic debut in Maryland history was unveiled by Barbara Rawlins on the evening of 2004/11/6, in remembrance of Sergei Rachmaninov's 1934/11/7 introduction in Baltimore of his final immortal hit, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for piano and orchestra.

One the best known of the tiny handful of great works debuting in the Americas (in the elite company of Tchaikovski's Piano Concerto #1 [Boston 1875], Dvorak's Symphony #9 [NYC 1893], and Rachmaninov's own Piano Concerto #3 [NYC 1909]), the Rachmaninov Rhapsody is the most enduring serious musical composition premiered in the Western Hemisphere, of which there exists a closely contemporaneous recording by the premiering artists — not to mention the additional feature that the soloist was the composer himself.
[Those whose computers have a compatible media player are hearing the Rhapsody's gloriously and unrestrainedly romantic 18th variation, from the 1934/12/24 Camden, NJ, RCA analog recording (obviously mono and pre-hifi) made by Rachmaninov, Stokowski, & the Philadelphia, only a few weeks after the Baltimore premiere.]

The 2004 event was the issue and culmination of the effort and civic pride of several of Baltimore's city-mothers, including classy classicist Christine Sarbanes (wife of Paul Sarbanes, the longtime [much-needed] conscience of the U.S.Senate, whose kindness in attending the funeral of DR's step-father John Avirett will never be forgotten in our family); as well as city-fathers, including Mac Plant (Board, T.Rowe Price), Charlie Cole (CEO, Legg Mason Trust), David Eaton (whose family co-founded the late Four East Madison Orthopaedic Associates, Inc.), and The Lyric's Meb Turner, Ed Brody, & Sandy Richmond.

We also thank Chesapeake Monuments' Anna Leytush (who cheerfully fielded dozens of mother-hen phonecalls from DR, as the dedication-date loomed ever nearer) and are grateful for the interest and encouragement of Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun classical music reviewer); Richard P. O'Mara (Baltimore Sun Editorial Board Emeritus); Dr. McRae Williams (Union Memorial Hospital); Darrin Britting (Librarian, Philadelphia Orchestra); Bridget Carr (Archivist, Boston Symphony Orchestra); and Joanne Suder, Tom McNicholas, & Rob Joyce.

     The 5ft-by-3ft, 300-lb, star-galaxy-black granite memorial, beautifully engraved (2004/11/4) by Vladimir Leytush of Chesapeake Monuments (Reisterstown, MD), funded by Barbara Rawlins, was dedicated 2004/11/6 in the grand-entrance Rosa Ponselle Hall of Baltimore's Lyric Opera House, the gold-lettered text (composed by Dennis Rawlins) devoted to honoring Rachmaninov, The Lyric, Baltimore, and Maryland.
(The antiquities-backgrounds of Christine Sarbanes & DR led to opting for granite. We both knew too well: metal memorials are always melted-down in the long run.)

     Baltimore's celebration occurred exactly seventy tropical years after Sergei Rachmaninov played in person our planet's very first hearing of his final work for piano & orchestra, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini — at The Lyric on the evening of 1934/11/7.
See Baltimore Sun 2004/11/6, as well as the flyer distributed at the dedication-ceremony.
[Of the sponsors of the memorial cited therein (and on the monument), it happens that all eight are connected (by attendance, employment, or marriage) to Baltimore's Gilman School — half to the Class of 1955 alone. To the flyer's item on the 1953 film Story of Three Loves should be added: the quintuple appearance of the Rhapsody in the 1980 film Somewhere in Time (starring the late Chris Reeve). One of the few improvements (to the 1954 original) of the 1995 remake of Sabrina was the addition of the Rachmaninov Rhapsody (at 26m). And Olympic double-chamption Katarina Witt ice-skated to the Rhapsody at the culmination of the film Ronin (R.DeNiro, Jonathan Pryce) in 1998. Indeed, the Rhapsody has long since become a favorite for numerous other ice skaters, heard at both the 2002 & 2006 Winter Olympic Games, inspiring Sarah Hughes to her Olympic gold medal at Salt Lake City (2002).]

Also distributed at the 2004 Lyric ceremony (besides drinks at the bar): dozens of CDs of Rachmaninov's 1934 performance of the Rhapsody, as well as dozens of personally-signed CDs of the famous 1956 stereo performance by Leon Fleisher, who is still active nationally as soloist, as well as teacher (at Baltimore's eminent Peabody Conservatory) — and star of CBS' 2004/9/15 60 Minutes. (We are grateful to Leon for his patience and kindness in taking considerable time on 2004/11/6 to sign so many CD-booklets.) All CDs were funded by Barbara Rawlins.

     Throughout the evening, the Lyric's sound system successively played recordings of performances of the Rhapsody by L.Fleisher (Cleveland Orchestra & G.Szell), by H.Gutierrez (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra & D.Zinman), and by Rachmaninov himself (Philadelphia Orchestra & L.Stokowski).

     The 11/6 ceremony was simple and to the point: after a gracious introduction by Lyric chief Sandy Richmond, very brief speeches were delivered by Dennis Rawlins (DIO) and Elizabeth Schaff (Archivist, Conservatory of Music, Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University). Then, while Rachmaninov's 1934 performance of the Rhapsody resounded throughout The Lyric's cavernous Ponselle Hall, Barbara Rawlins' right hand lifted the white veil covering the memorial — marking the instant commencing our mundane granite's eternal public commemoration of Rachmaninov's equally-forever celestial-artistic heritage.
[Click on either image to bring up far denser versions.]
Photo of Memorial: by DR, on evening of day it was engraved: 2004/11/4.
RachStar Painting (courtesy of the Robert M. Bryce PrePennyDumptruck Archives) is by Boris Artzybasheff of Russia (digital-touch-up-graftings by DR), who was famous for creating dozens of Time magazine's covers (including the famous Hitler-red-X'd cover marking 1945 VE-Day, recently simulated to celebrate Saddam's capture). Image apparently done originally for cover of 78rpm 1942 album of Rachmaninov-Ormandy-Philadelphia 1941/12/20 recording of then-freshly-revised Piano Concerto #4. Also used a decade later on the cover of the W.Kapell-F.Reiner recording of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #2 with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra. The son of a member of that orchestra's directorship was one of DR's freshman Harvard suite-mates in Holworthy Hall 5-6, and it was a 33 1/3 rpm disc (of the Kapell recording) in his personal collection† that first introduced DR to the grandeur and depth of Rachmaninov's magic.




On 2006/1/6, to celebrate the installment of the Rachmaninov Memorial, the Lyric held its “1st Annual Festival” concert, Rach Around the World (including music of Rachmaninov, Bizet, Bernstein, & others), conducted by Vladimir Lande, principle guest conductor of the St.Petersburg Symphony Orchestra. The event represents a return to the Lyric of the orchestral tradition of symphonic music (as distinguished from opera, which has appeared continuously at the Lyric for many years) — a revival of the long tradition earlier maintained so eloquently by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. We wish that this seed may flower into permanent bloom.







†Much as he loved the Kapell disk, DR soon found that he was even more entranced by Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #3 — the Gilels-Cluytens recording in the same collection.