Grand composer's kin plans a hand in legacy

2007-03-03T00:00:00Z Grand composer's kin plans a hand in legacyBy Cathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Alexander Temple Wolkonsky Rachmaninoff Wanamaker strolls the University of Arizona campus with his backpack slung over his shoulder.

He is 6 foot 2, with shoulder-length blond hair. Dressed in a long-sleeved sweater, blue jeans and scuffed sneakers, and wearing sunglasses, he is the picture of a college kid.

In a few short years, if all goes as planned, the 21-year-old Tucson native will control the legacy and intellectual properties of one of Russia's most prominent 20th century composers, his great-great-grandfather Sergei Rachmaninoff. Those concerns are now maintained by Wanamaker's father and a couple of aunts, all of whom are ready to retire and turn it over to the next generation.

Wanamaker, in concert with his sister and three cousins, plans to set up a publishing venture that will regain control of the Rachmaninoff scores and manuscripts now published and managed by six different interests in the United States and abroad. The heirs also plan to restore the copyrights of works whose rights will expire in the next few years.

That's where the plan gets a tad tricky. To apply for new copyrights, Wanamaker and his kin will have to rearrange their great-great-grandfather's works. The changes can be relatively minor, from cleaning up the notations to drafting study scores, which include comments about the music and how it should be played; or all-out re-arrangement that could change the personality of the music.

To some, this could be downright musical heresy. But Wanamaker is quick to note that the rearrangements will be minor.

"It's as little rearrangement as possible, preferably," he explained. "Some of the copyrights come up in the (two-thousand) teens and two in the late '20s."

Wanamaker said the family already has approached a few composers about doing the re-arrangement. "We're in the process now of having the music rearranged so that we can re-establish the rights and generations can enjoy it for futures to come," he said.

UA music curator Keith Pawlak said it will be hard to improve on many of the scores, particularly those published by Dover Publications — which has a published version of the Second Piano Concerto that will be played here twice this week by two different orchestras: the National Philharmonic of Russia on Wednesday at Centennial Hall and by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra Thursday, Friday and next Sunday at Tucson Music Hall.

"I think Dover has done a marvelous job creating study scores. I don't know what they would do to improve on Dover," he noted.

Wanamaker is quick to dispel concerns that the family will increase the fees for orchestras to rent and play Rachmaninoff. Actually, he says, the cost will be less because there will be fewer hands in the pot.

"What we would like to do is actually lower the prices," he said, noting that over the past 30 years, royalties have generated at least $50 million in income that's divided between the family and the publishing firms. Without the publishing firms, the family would get a bigger cut and could afford to drop the price, he reasoned.

Russian pianist Olga Kern, who will perform the Rach Two with the Russian ensemble, praised the family's plans.

"In the family's hands is the best hands," said Kern, whose great-grandmother once sang with Rachmaninoff as her accompanist in Russia. "They will definitely save the music."

Wanamaker, a classically trained pianist and guitarist who chose basketball over Beethoven, came to appreciate his great-great-grandfather's legacy when he attended the Ravinia Festival — a summer series of classical concerts — in his adopted hometown of Chicago. He was 13 and found himself surrounded by fans of his great-great-grandfather's music after a festival performance.

"I thought to myself, we could really do something here. … I've always been proud of my heritage and I like the music, very much so," he recalled.

Wanamaker performed recitals during the 11 years he studied music — from age 4 to 15 — but was more interested in playing basketball. He even toyed around with the idea of a college run at the sport but decided instead to focus on business studies.

He could have made the cut academically to attend any number of Ivy League schools, he said, but Wanamaker decided to follow in his parents' footsteps to UA. Both of them are UA grads and his father, who now lives in the Bahamas, still maintains properties in Tucson.

Wanamaker is carrying 18 credits at the UA Eller College of Management, from which he hopes to graduate with his bachelor's next May. In addition, he manages some private investments, plays tennis, reads, throws dinner parties with friends, and since turning 21, goes out to bars on occasion. And when he mentions that he is related to the famous Russian composer, he guesses about four out of 10 of his college peers would recognize the name.

He is hoping his generation of Rachmaninoffs can improve on that.

"It is my legacy, which is why it's so important to me, my sister and my cousins," he said.

Hear it online

To hear snippets of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, visit these Web sites:

www.last.fm/music/Sergei+Rachmaninoff/ — the composer plays it himself.

www.amazon.com/Rachmaninov-Piano-Concerto-Paganini-Rhapsody/dp/B0006SSOOK — featuring the Chinese pianist Lang Lang

www.amazon.com/Tchaikovsky-Concerto-No-Rachmaninoff-2/dp/B000003EUG — from the famed pianist Van Cliburn.

Lights, camera, soundtrack

The Hollywood connection to Piano Concerto No. 2: Parts of it figured prominently in "Brief Encounter" (1946); in "The Seven Year Itch" (1955) as a wry comic aside; and in Barbra Streisand's comedy-romance-drama "The Mirror Has Two Faces" (1996).

Rach'ing in Tucson

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra dips into the Rachmaninoff vault fairly regularly, including next season. In the last five years, it's performed:

• 2002-03 — Piano Concerto No. 4.

• 2003-04 —"Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini."

• 2005-06 — "Symphonic Dances."

• 2006-07 — "Vocalise"; Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18; Trio Élégiaque No. 1 in G minor.

● Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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