Sergei Rachmaninoff’s relationship with the New York Philharmonic began during his first trip to America in 1909 and continued until just a few months before his death in 1943. It became one of the most unique and demanding partnerships in the Orchestra’s history.

This exhibit illustrates a behind-the-scenes snapshot of that relationship and his 25 years in New York.
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As the archives reveal, the demands of such an extraordinary soloist were high. Rachmaninoff’s managers negotiated unheardof percentage fees for his appearances, and lucrative royalties for his compositions. He insisted never to be heard on the radio, so the Philharmonic prepared different programs for their Sunday broadcast concerts during his visiting weeks. Tellingly, Rachmaninoff would appear mostly with guest conductors and the more accommodating music directors such as Josef Stransky and Walter Damrosch. The Philharmonic’s “star” personalities—Willem Mengelberg, Bruno Walter, and Gustav Mahler—collaborated with him only once; Arturo Toscanini and Artur Rodzinski did not engage him at all.

When the Philharmonic did play with Rachmaninoff, however, it was greeted by capacity audiences and attention given only to the most famous artists of the day. His closest rivals were Josef Hoffman, Vladimir Horowitz, and Fritz Kreisler, but Rachmaninoff exceeded their fame (and pay) as a soloist with his own compositions to showcase. As Olin Downes, music critic for The New York Times wrote in an article after the composer’s passing, “Rachmaninoff was never anything but impregnably himself, and in himself was greatness.”