On Saturday, April 28, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York, joined by members of the ROCOR Synod of Bishops, served a panihida at the gravesite of renowned composer, pianist, and conductor Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), marking the 75th anniversary of his repose. During the panihida, which was held at Kensico Cemetery in Westchester, NY, the clergy, along with the Synodal choir and members of the faithful, sang excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s "All-Night Vigil," thus fulfilling the composer’s last wishes for the first time.
As the choir conductor and organizer of the panihida Peter Fekula said, "Not long before his repose, Sergei Vasilevich expressed his desire that at his funeral, the hymn ‘Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart" from his "All-Night Vigil" be sung; however, this was never done… Now, 75 years later, his will was fulfilled in the presence of the Metropolitan and a number of hierarchs in a very solemn atmosphere.”
Pianist and composer Nikolai Schidlovsky, who took part in the ceremony, underlined that Rachmaninoff "was a great personality – a deeply religious person, loyal to his country until the end of his days… He was a man in many ways mysterious to the public, because when he performed on the concert stage, he was very composed, even sullen, and not many understood him; but when he sat down at the piano, everyone was amazed at what he was doing."
Metropolitan Hilarion then greeted all those present, underscoring that, "During these joyous Paschal days, we have gathered here together to honor the memory of a great Russian musician, Rachmaninoff, who in this way has united us here." The panihida was attended by members of the Synod of Bishops: Archbishops Mark of Berlin & Germany and Gabriel of Montreal & Canada, Bishops Nicholas of Manhattan and Irenei of Sacramento, as well as Archpriest George Larin (pastor emeritus of Holy Virgin Protection Church in Nyack, NY), Archpriest Serafim Gan (chancellor of the Synod of Bishops), Archpriest Alexandre Antchoutine (dean of Long Island & the Hudson Valley), Hieromonk Tikhon (Gayfudinov; personal secretary to the First Hierarch), Protodeacon Eugene Kallaur (cleric of St. Seraphim Memorial Church in Sea Cliff, NY), and faithful devotees of the talented musician.
The "All-Night Vigil" was the last work composed by Rachmaninoff in Russia during the First World War in 1915. It was first sung by the Synodal Choir in March of the same year, and quickly received wide acclaim. During the first month, the Synodal Choir appeared with these pieces four times, and each time upon its conclusion, the audience applauded, despite the fact that applause during the singing of spiritual hymns was banned. The "All-Night Vigil" later became an integral part of church life for the Russian Orthodox, and the hymn "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart" was considered a favorite piece of the composer himself.
Rachmaninoff left Russia in 1918. He reposed on March 2, 1943 in his home in Beverly Hills, CA where he lived the remainder of his life. The musician was buried in the Russian cemetery in Kensico, NY in a zinc coffin, as it was planned that later he could be reburied in Russia.
Details from TASS News Agency
New York City: In Keeping with his Last Wishes, Synodal Choir sings Panihida at Grave of Sergei Rachmaninoff - 04/28/18
Photos: Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese - G.Konyev