The Rachmaninoff Society
The Rachmaninoff Society as a Charity registered in the UK was founded in 1990 to bring into contact all those who appreciate the Russian composer, pianist and conductor Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and to further the study of his life and music.
Over the last decade, the Rachmaninoff Society has been active worldwide, assisting in the organisation of numerous conferences and concerts, as well as the preparation of radio programmes. It has also stimulated the publication of various unknown scores and the making of recordings.
In the centenary year of 1973 I placed advertisements in a music magazine to try to establish the possibility of forming a Rachmaninoff Society. Although the handful of responses I received were most enthusiastic, it was impractical then to pursue the idea.
It was therefore a very pleasant surprise to spot a similar advert in Gramophone magazine in 1991, placed by Julia Walton (then Scott-Farnell) and I was naturally one of the first to respond. Fortunately the numbers responding to Julia's advert then made the idea viable and before long those of us who had expressed interest received Julia's (and the Society's) very first Newsletter - which I know many members still have to this day! Subsequent Newsletters followed, to which I contributed record reviews. A meeting followed at the Café Royale in London when Julia and I met for the first time along with Derek Baker and a handful of other members. From that meeting stemmed an invitation to Maestro Ashkenazy to become our President and we were and remain immensely honoured that he accepted that invitation. Julia was also invited to meet Alexandre Rachmaninoff in Switzerland and another long-term relationship was forged. Julia had already received enthusiastic support from Rachmaninoff's niece, Sophia Satina, who lived in London and soon became our first honorary member.
For personal reasons, Julia relinquished her role as head of the Society after only a short time and I stepped into the breach, little prepared for what was to follow over the next decade. Membership numbers grew and the affairs of the Society took up more and more time. The Newsletter was typed up and taken to a copy shop then I spent hours on my hands and knees collating and stapling them together and preparing them for mailing. It was a great help when another member with a computer prepared labels for me! Much needed help also came from Scott Colebank, who offered to deal with members in the US. This led to the eventual incorporation of the NA Chapter of the Society, which was ably run by Scott for many years. Another big step forward was taken when Scott came to the UK and we travelled together to Pendrell Hall in Wolverhampton for a weekend course on Rachmaninoff presented by Joan Burns, where we were joined by Julia and other members but as a minority in a class open to the public. Soon we had the idea that we could do the same thing, only better and a couple of years later the first Rachmaninoff Society Conference and musical weekend took place at the same venue. That is now a major fixture in the calendar of many members and is a wonderful opportunity to renew acquaintanceships and meet and make new friends.
After the formal adoption of a Constitution at one of our Conferences the Committee followed and from there the Society never really looked back. Fortunately we are blessed not only with reliable long-term support from some of the original founder members but also with increasing numbers of enthusiastic younger members keen to move on.
I am confident that the Society, once an unachievable dream, then a tenuous, fragile green shoot, is now well established and ready to help place the name of Rachmaninoff where it truly belongs, amongst the musical greats.
We are very grateful for the support of our Patrons:
- Natalie Wanamaker-Javier (Rachmaninoff's great-granddaughter),
- Distinguished music critic and Rachmaninoff scholar Geoffrey Norris
- Pianists Howard Shelley & Hilary MacNamara
- Pianist François-Joël Thiollier
- Composer Rodion Shchedrin
In addition, we were very fortunate to have as our founding President legendary pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy.