New Classical Tracks: A 'new' Rachmaninoff concerto

Album cover
Alexander Warenberg: Piano Concerto No. 5.
Album cover

In 2000, Dutch producer Pieter Van Winkel let his imagination run free while listening to one of his favorite works, Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2.

"Listening to the second symphony, I could never ignore the fact that somehow I imagined the sound of the piano," Van Winkel said. "Then I thought, what would happen if you actually make a concerto from this gorgeous piece of music?"

Van Winkel posed the idea to his former piano teacher, Russian composer Alexander Warenberg. At first, Warenberg was completely flabbergasted at the notion. After pondering the idea a little longer he decided it could be done.

The first step in developing this new concerto was to acquire permission from Rachmaninoff's estate. According to Van Winkel, gaining permission was easier than they anticipated.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

"We actually went to the grandson of Rachmaninoff, Mr. Alexander Rachmaninoff, who lives in the beautiful villa on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland, where Rachmaninoff composed a lot of his works. We went there and proposed the idea, and he was very enthusiastic," said Van Winkel.

Warenberg finished the first draft of the solo piano part in just six months. He spent the next two years on the orchestration, working sometimes 22 hours a day.

"He changed a lot in this symphony because the original symphony has four movements, and he wanted to make it into a proper piano concerto which usually has three movements," Van Winkel explained. "He combined the second movement and the third movement and made them one movement, the adagio. So he actually combined the two."

Warenberg wrote the entire work in the style of Rachmaninoff. He says every note of his could be Rachmaninoff's. The modifications he made are designed to improve sound and balance.

With this composition, Warenberg is allowing pianists to get closer to one of the greatest symphonies ever written.

The pianist in this world premiere performance, Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy, says it's a great feeling to play the wonderful first theme of the second movement.

What's most important to Schmitt-Leonardy is the fact that there is now a new Romantic piano concerto that contains so much of Rachmaninoff's universe, combined with brilliant new inventions by a contemporary composer.

Schmitt-Leonardy also loves the idea that there's no traditional way to play this piece. Each performance can bring something novel to this work.

Wolfram Schmitt-Leonardy believes many composers are so busy being faithful to the text of a score they forget to love it. That's what makes this concerto such a treasure.

Alexander Warenberg used his heart as well as his head when he wrote it. By loving it, he remained faithful to it. What started as a pie-in-the-sky idea has resulted in what could be a valuable new addition to the Romantic piano repertoire.