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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stranger Who Inspired A Lifetime With Music

In the summer of 1916, my father and his mother spent their vacation in the resort town of Yessentuki for the first time. At the time, my father was a teenager and a student, and it only took a couple of days for him to grow bored with the quiet life of the resort. He soon began spending all his time at the tennis court, either playing or just watching.

One day my father found himself sitting next to a stranger in the grandstand who, quite unexpectedly, invited my father to take a stroll in the park after the match was finished. Somehow it developed that they began taking such walks together everyday. The stranger didn’t talk much about himself and, although my father was curious, he restrained himself from asking personal questions.

One day soon after, my father saw a poster advertising a benefit concert in the nearby city of Kislovodsk. The concert would feature an orchestra conducted by none other than Sergei Rakhmaninov, the great composer, pianist and conductor. My father was himself a passable musician and Rakhmaninov was one of his favorite composers. However, when he told his mother about the concert, she put her foot down, saying she didn’t want him going all the way there on the train by himself.

The next day my father was too upset to concentrate on his tennis and after hitting the ball aimlessly for a few minutes, he happily accepted his new friend’s invitation to a walk. While strolling through the park, they met a distinguished looking lady coming in the other direction who bowed to my father’s companion and said, "Good morning, Sergei Vasiliyevich! I am looking forward to your concert in Kislovodsk."

My father froze as if he had been struck by lightning. Rakhmaninov! Although a volume of the composer’s preludes with a portrait of Rakhmaninov on the cover stood on my father’s piano at home, he had not recognized his idol. Even now, he could not believe he had actually met the great musician. A few minutes later, Rakhmaninov noticed my father’s stunned silence and asked, "Why are you so quiet?"

"Is it true?" my father sputtered. "Are you Rakhmaninov?"

A few days later my father calmed down enough to ask Rakhmaninov to listen while he played one of the composer’s preludes. My father hoped that Rakhmaninov himself would sit down at the piano, but he merely listened politely and pointed out a couple of places where my father’s tempo was not quite correct.

The next day Rakhmaninov took the train to Kislovodsk. As he boarded the train, the composer turned back and pronounced the words that my father carried with him proudly for the rest of his life: "Don’t give up your music. You have talent."

Vladislav Schnitzer is a freelance journalist and pensioner living in Moscow.