Length: c. 40 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle), strings, and solo piano
First LA Phil performance: January 2, 1930, with pianist Vladimir Horowitz, Artur Rodzinski conducting
The Third Concerto was given its first performance by the New York Symphony Orchestra on November 28, 1909, with Walter Damrosch conducting. Rachmaninoff scored such a success – as soloist and composer – that both concerto and pianist were brought back several months later by the New York Philharmonic and its newly appointed music director, Gustav Mahler. Rachmaninoff’s observations regarding the rehearsals give some insight into Mahler’s working habits: “At that time, Mahler was the only conductor whom I considered worthy to be classed with [Artur] Nikisch. He touched my composer’s heart straight away… According to Mahler every detail of the score was important – an attitude rare among conductors.
“The rehearsal began at 10. It was to last until 12:30. But we did not begin to work at the concerto until 12. I did my utmost to play through a composition which should have taken at least 36 minutes. We played and played… Half an hour was long past, but Mahler paid no attention… Forty-five minutes later he announced, ‘Now we will repeat the first movement.’ ”
“I expected a… heated protest from the orchestra. This would certainly have happened with any other orchestra, but I did not notice signs of displeasure… At last we finished and I went up to the conductor’s desk and together we examined the score. The musicians in the back began quietly to pack up their instruments. Mahler exploded… ‘What is the meaning of this?’ The leader: ‘It is half past one, Master.’ ‘That makes no difference! As long as I am here, no musician has a right to get up.’ One assumes that they were eventually released.”
The performance, as with Damrosch, was an enormous critical and audience success.
Herbert Glass has written for many publications in the U.S. and abroad and was for 15 years an editor-annotator for the Salzburg Festival.