The Serge Rachmaninoff Foundation
The Serge Rachmaninoff Foundation was established in 2000 by the composer’s grandson, Alexander Rachmaninoff at «Villa Senar», the composer’s house on the shores of the Lake Lucerne, Switzerland. From 1993 Alexander Rachmaninoff was already actively promoting the music of his grandfather through the «Friends of Serge Rachmaninoff» association.
The first goal of the Foundation is to foster the appreciation of the music of Serge Rachmaninoff and to bring the whole of his oeuvre, including many little known works — such as the First Symphony or Piano Sonata nr. 1 — to public attention. International music festivals and gala concerts, research and documentary projects were supported with the aim of promoting a new interest in the life and work of the composer. Over 100 events have been supported during these 15 years of activity, in association with major music institutions world-wide, including the Ravinia Festival in the US, the London Philharmonic Orchestra in UK, the Orchestre de Paris in France, the Academy of Santa Cecilia and the Teatro alla Scala in Italy, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and the Zaubersee Festival in Switzerland, the Moscow Philharmonic Society in Russia. Artists as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Paavo Järvi, Vladimir Jurowski, Valery Gergiev, Lorin Maazel, Gianandrea Noseda, Antonio Pappano, Mikhail Pletnev and Tugan Sokhiev has been involved in the events promoted by the Serge Rachmaninoff Foundation over the years.
The Foundation has also supported intensively the young generation of musicians, such as Denis Matsuev, Dmitry Mayboroda, Daniil Kharitonov and Alexandra Dovgan. Since the death of Alexander Rachmaninoff in 2012 the Serge Rachmaninoff Foundation has a new important duty: to preserve Senar as a cultural heritage of the humanity and a holy place dedicated to the memory of Serge Rachmaninoff. In May 2018, the Canton of Lucerne has included the Villa Senar among the protected monument of the region.
In 2015 the Serge Rachmaninoff Foundation has established a partnership with The Rachmaninoff Network with the goal to preserve and digitalize the Serge Rachmaninoff Archives at the Villa Senar.
In 2021 the Serge Rachmaninoff Foundation has established a partnership with the Lucerne School of Music (HSLU-Musik) in the field of education.
Yulia Savikovskaya talks to General Manager of The Serge Rachmaninoff Foundation Ettore Volontieri.
— Ettore, how come that you came to be interested in Rachmaninoff? In your opinion, what is his current standing in Europe and the USA?
— First of all, let me say that I had the chance to work for many years with Mariinsky Theatre, as the representative of the Mariinsky Theatre. And in 2004 I had a chance to be in a Lucerne, where the Mariinsky was performing the «Pique Damme», its concert version for the Lucerne festival in the summer. And among the people in attendance was Alexander Rachmaninoff, the grandson of Sergei Rachmaninoff, who has been basically spending his entire life at the Villa Senar as the only heir of Tatiana Rachmaninoff, the daughter of Sergei. So I met him and we’ve started getting together every time I was presenting Rachmaninoff music around Europe with my projects. And particularly December 2004 I presented a Rachmaninoff marathon in Santa Cicilia with Alexander Toradze and the students of his Piano Studio, so we made a wonderful project presenting complete piano works written by Sergei Rachmaninoff. It was a huge project for 2 days and about 10 hours of music with all the piano music for one piano, two pianos, and also chronologically presented. So it was an amazing display of the Rachmaninoff production for piano. Alexander came and he was extremely happy. And the following year, it was December 2004, he came to my office in Milan and proposed me to work for the foundation as the consultant for him. And he introduced me for the first time to this amazing project to revive the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, particularly the lesser known works by the composer. So by May 2005 I’d started working with him and I have to say seven wonderful years I’ve been his consultant and the executive producer of the Rachmaninoff projects, which the foundation has presented around the world. So that’s the way I got in touch with Alexander. Rachmaninoff music has been always something very present in my life as a concert manager, as an artist manager; of course, repertoire of Rachmaninoff is one of the most important general classical music repertoire. But, of course, to be allowed to enter into the very private sphere of the composer’s life has been a changing element.
— If we make an hierarchy of how well the Russian composers of the XXth century are known in the west, where would Rachmaninoff stand? Say compared to Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky… well, that’s XIX century. But could we sort of provisionally think about his standing. Is he like top-3, top-5, the first, the most well-know one?
— Well, I have to say, in terms of popularity, in being the name that rings the bell to most of the people I have to say Rachmaninoff is probably number one. Of course, the popularity of Shostakovich has been rowing enormously. I would say Stravinsky is, of course, very popular but in a very restricted circle of people and very-very respected. Rachmaninoff has been projected to the main popularity by, of course, Hollywood, by many extremely popular melodies, which has been created, and by the fact that many of his melodies has been also taken by pop-composers and pop-singers, which make arrangements of his music. So you can like or dislike, but the Rachmaninoff «Piano Concerto no. 21» movement is so popular because Celine Dion made a song based on its tunes. And things like these didn’t happen with another composers. Of course, in a circle of classical music aficionados and, especially, critics this hierarchy can change. But in terms of general popularity Rachmaninoff is probably the most popular Russian composer after Tchaikovsky.
— Could you say a few words about how Rachmaninoff bought this villa and which years of his life he spent there?
— It’s a very interesting story that is linking Rachmaninoff to Switzerland, because Rachmaninoff came to Switzerland and particularly to the Lake of Four Cantons, or Lake of Lucerne, for his honeymoon with his wife Natalya. And he was up to the Rigi Hohflue, which is a beautiful mountain, from which you can see all the lake of Zurich and its amazing landscape. And, of course, they both loved the place. There are several letters of Rachmaninoff saying how beautiful this place was. Then, in 1929, this is really my something, but I think there are many historical, many strong elements which let me think that this has been probably one of the things contributing to the decision of Rachmaninoff: we all know 1929 marked the worst crisis for the American economy and then the World economy. So, by 1929 Rachmaninoff, thanks to his American activities, thanks to his concerts’ performances, not his composing, but his performing as a pianist, and all the recordings he made — all these kinds of activities — he was able to amass certain fortune. And, of course, it was bad time for people to have money, because the stock exchange was in a terrible shape, due to the crisis. So I have a passion for Rachmaninoff was inverting his money where he was sure he wouldn’t lose his money. So, Switzerland came up and Rachmaninoff had a great friend, Oskar von Riesemann, who was living in Lucerne. Suddenly, we see it from the archives of Villa Senar, the correspondence started between the Rachmaninoff and Oscar about a beautiful piece of land becoming available for sale on the lake of Four Cantons. I was a property of a German guy, who had a small spice factory with a swiss chalet inside. But the beautiful idea was a piece of land, 20000 square meters, right on the lake in a beautiful position where one could see the mountain the Pilatus, the sacred Swiss mountain for the descend Swiss people. Rachmaninoff immediately jumped on the idea and bought this land, it was an early 1930. The period is significant — America is the mess, you don’t know where to put your money. And a great piece of land becomes available. And then in the beginning Rachmaninoff asked for a German architect, who created a possible extend for a swiss chalet. But finally all the projects which were submitted to him, were not really convincing, very extensive for the result. And then a Rachmaninoff made a very clear decision to make a completely new situation there. With the help from the two, very important, people for him and Switzerland, one was Oskar von Riesemann, but particularly another one, the lawyer, the very nice, very good lawyer with great relationship with the place, Dr. Riedweg, he got rid of the first project. And started the second project hiring two Lucerne architects, Krebs and Möri, to create a completely new house. And in order to build this new house he had to completely change the topography of the territory, because the piece of land he bought had a huge rock. It was known at the time as the Gibraltar of the Lake of Lucerne. So he really had to make a huge investment to get rid of this rock, make a plane, flat land. And because of this work that took about two years to be done Senar now has two houses: one smaller house which is called the Gärtnerhaus, where Rachmaninoff spent two years waiting to the big house to be ready. So he was there, the smaller house was ready by the beginning of the 1932. So, we have the first documents of Rachmaninoff being in Senar in 1932 with him already receiving friends like Horowitz and his wife and Toscanini, and other friends on the territory. But then waiting for the big house to be built. And there are wonderful letters saying he was happy then, so well in the place. He was dreaming of the big house to be ready, of the windows to be ready, of the windows of his bedroom, which would have an amazing view on the lake and on the mountain. So the old house was conceived for him to be in touch with nature. The house was complete in April 1934, and as soon as the piano arrived Stanway piano, which is Frederick Stanway donated to him on his 60th birthday, Rachmaninoff started to compose. And what I find incredibly touching is that between April and August 1934 he composed the «Paganini Rhapsody», the rhapsody in a team of Paganini, which is of course one of his beautiful works. It is his first big work, the one he composed very successfully and very full of inspiration, he composed since he left Russia basically. Before you can count the «Piano Concerto № 4», which, you know a very complicated piece, how to say, in process of composing he changed it many times, never really happy of this piece. Then he composed the «Corelli variations» for piano, which he composed in France, when he had already bought the land of Senar, bearing Senar in mind. And then the «Paganini Rhapsody» flow with amazing freedom of expression. Being in Senar, somehow being in a place where he could express himself, with complete expression and joy like he did in Ivanovka, all years in Russia. So year after, 1935, he started composing «Symphony № 3», which he completed composition and orchestration by the summer of 1936. We can say that Senar was literally this place, where Rachmaninoff found back his voice, this best voice and the ability to create these beautiful melodies and express them with an amazing ability to orchestrate.
— Are there any indications in his letters that he found that inspiration being at the villa? Did he record it in letters to friends?
— Yes, especially in letters to his cousin Sofia Satina he is constantly talking about how well he feels at this place, how he looks forward to always come to this place. Even in one letter he says: «I think I’ve found the place where, if needed, I should be buried», which mean really the place feels like he belongs to, to be closest to his heart. But why? Because he was really able to recreate a place absolutely according to his wish, his desire. That’s why he was changing the topography, making a completely different house. We can say that Senar was one of his compositions. We can really call that house one of his compositions — there is so much of his personal taste, his presence and decisions in the building of the house even in the plants he planted at the park. In the plans of the Villa Senar, we have a complete archive of all the documents related to the construction of the house and one can see how how terminal was the contribution, the personal contribution of Rachmaninoff in building the house how it is.
— How well is the house preserved? What is the feeling you get when you enter it?
— Well, one of the greatest things that, I think, Alexander did, is to really preserve the house as it was. The house kept even the toilets the same way Rachmaninoff had them in the 30s. You have so much of the original construction and so many of the old furniture. We have even the only existing suit, costume of Rachmaninoff kept there. We have all the linen, all the small pieces of furniture — everything is there.
— So, basically, this is quite unique, because it’s not the case, for Stravinsky last house in Los Angeles or even Rachmaninoff’s former house in LA. You know, I passed it. Somebody else is living there. The lady didn’t open the door to me.
— The house in Los Angeles was sold long ago. So people who live there have nothing to do with Rachmaninoff or Rachmaninoff family. That’s why Senar is so important, because it’s the only place which is left, which is also keeping all Rachmaninoff items. We should be grateful to Alexander, Rachmaninoff’s grandson, as he was obsessive and kept and saved everything. All that Sergei Rachmaninoff left in Senar is there. Everything, down to the list of staff to be bought at the shop, the food shop. I mean, he kept everything the checks, where he was marking what he was buying and how much he was paying. It’s, I think, is a kind of love to his grandfather, an act of recognition of how great he was, that he kept literally everything. So you have the feeling that Rachmaninoff left the house just five minutes before.
— So the visitors would be basically transferred to this period, the summer, between 1934 and 1942, right?
— Yes, we can say that Rachmaninoff spend a significant amount of time every year at Senar between, let’s say, April, beginning of March, April and August every year between 1934 and 1939. Seven full years, of course those years are very important years. We know from the history of the time, I mean, dictatorships arising, the Nazis coming to Germany and occupying the cultural life in Germany, all the German Jewish artist were forced to leave Germany, Toscanini denouncing his terrible situation and leaving forever Bayreuth and Salzburg Festivals. The festival of Lucerne being started at this period with the strong presence of Toscanini. So it’s very important period for Europe, for the entire world. It was very significant that Rachmaninoff was able to spend his time there and to compose such masterpieces there. And I think, this is the reason why it’s very important, why the Rachmaninoff Foundation is fighting with all forces to keep the place as a memorial not only to Rachmaninoff as a musician. But to Rachmaninoff as a man, as a generous man helping his friend, helping a lot of people around him to relocate, people who had to leave Russia because of the Revolution. But also helping Russia during the World War II, sending food and medicaments to Russia. A man with a very clear political opinion, as he expressed in his famous letter of 1931 on the New York Times, you know this famous letter where he, Tolstoy and the other important figures in Russian culture denouncing the abuse of the Soviet authorities in a response to a very positive comment, which a poet Tagore made about Soviet Union educational system. So, he was a man who took a position, who paid for this, because, as we know, the Rachmaninoff’s music was somehow banned from the Soviet Union after this letter for many years. And only after Rachmaninoff had sent a very strong help to Soviet Union, the Union of Composers came back to him and congratulated him with his 70th birthday. Too bad that he was at his dying bed and he actually died the day before receiving the telegram from the Union of Soviet Composers. Senar represent again not only the musician, but the entire figure of Rachmaninoff.
— Switzerland was a safe, almost mythological place for many immigrants during the War.
— Yeah, in a way it represents a place of piece, where people can find piece and also a place, where people can meet. We are very happy as the Rachmaninoff Foundation, where I serve as a general manager since 2014, I’m very happy to say that the Canton of Lucerne has now included Villa Senar as one of the monuments which deserve to be protected since May 2018, so the Villa Senar is protected. And we’re happy the things will stay.
— Enrico, and so what happened after Rachmaninoff left for the US?
— The family was parted in two, Tatyana was living in France with a husband Boris and a young Alexander while Sergei, Natalya and the other daughter Irina, with her daughter Sophie, were living together in America, in New York and later in Los Angeles. And, of course, because of the World War II, Sergei was never able to return back to Senar. He died in 1943 and the family could somehow take back the property only after the end of the WWII, in 1945. Actually, we have an evidence of some restoration, that was needed and was done in 1945. And this is where the house changed his color, it was yellow, and it became white. The original color of the Villa Senar was yellow as we see from the original plans and the documents that we have at the construction archives. And the family got back the house, they used to spend summers there to reunite Tatyana, Irina, the mother Natalya. And they also kept invited friends and important musicians. We have a beautiful picture of, for instance, I believe in 1951, the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the close friend of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Eugene Ormandy, visiting Senar. And there is a beautiful picture of the Rachmaninoff family and the Ormandy family sitting together and having lunch. So then Natalya died and left the house to Tatyana because the properties of the Rachmaninoff were divided: the American properties went to Irina and Senar went to Tatyana because Tatyana was living in Europe. Tatyana, unfortunately, died quite soon, she was only 51. After Tatyana’s death the house was passed to Alexander, the only son of Tatyana and Boris. And as I mentioned before, Alexander really kept a house as a museum, as a memorial place.
— Could you say a few words about Rachmaninoff’s grandson?
— Alexander really dedicated his life to the memory of grandfather. He spent a lot of energy in order to reorganize the management of the author rights of his grandfather, very successfully, he has also very good people around him, very good legal consultants. So he was able to reorganize the legal rights of his grandfather. We should not forget that for many years the music of Rachmaninoff was considered as an old-fashioned music, not really welcomed to orchestras. It was, basically, banned by the conglomerate of the music critics. I mean, it’s very interesting, if you look at the development of the music critics about Rachmaninoff from the late 50s until the late 80s early 90s. And I couldn’t forget what I’ve found in the Grove Edition of 1951, I believe, where the critic was writing about Rachmaninoff, gave him a very short space and said that his music was used in Hollywood movies and he was probably going to be forgotten very soon. Which I found extraordinary, but is was a very clear direction, where this critic was pushing classical music in order to avoid certain way of composing to go to completely opposite way that new school of Vienna, the most of dodecaphonic school, while Rachmaninoff took a very firm stand. Also in one of his very rare interviews, which he gave in 1942, to magazine called «Étude», and I think it was a clear statement of his philosophy of composing, which was, of course, gaining him a lot of adverse positions from music critics. Then, little by little, his music gained good ambassadors, good conductors who were saying: «Hey, music of Rachmaninoff is not music of the past». Look at the «Symphonic Dances», it’s an extremely modern piece, the orchestration is incredibly modern, he is using jazz, he is using blues elements, he is really a man of his time, not just somebody looking behind, looking at Tchaikovsky. Simple way of saying that Rachmaninoff music was the way of communicating. I don’t think music just has to be intellectual speculation. And this is when the big fight happened with a new tendency of music to be more conceived, as, you know, dodecaphonic music is a lot about intellectual construction, the way you construct the melody is very technically built. People are even considered… Again, I’m not going to make polemics, but I’ll never forget the interview, where ones Boulez says that the music of Tchaikovsky should be burned. There was also stronger military critics.
— Like, for instance, representatives of Darmstadt school.
— Darmstadt school and whatever came out of Darmstadt school. With all the respect such schools were fighting very violently, like military, against other tendencies. And at some point, the history has shown this was a very important music from the historic point of view, but finally they pulled Rachmaninoff, they loved Rachmaninoff. One of the big fights Alexander has been doing was doing in his life is to regain the lesser known works a position in the repertoire to be accepted by symphonic orchestras. And again, I could never forget, in 2013 the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande was presenting for the first time the Isle of the Dead. His choral symphony The Bells was presented for the first time in Scandinavia in 2008. So this music was just forgotten, not to talk about «Symphony № 1», which has a very complicated story. Or the «Piano Sonata № 1», which is also a great piece of music, which was also basically completely forgotten until Alexander started to fight with pianists, asking them to present it, to make it public again, this music. Before it was just intellectual curiosity. Oh, Rachmaninoff composed this «Sonata № 1», of course, if he composed «Sonata № 2» there should be also a «Sonata № 1». But nobody played «Sonata № 1». Then, slowly but steady, many pianists presented «Sonata № 1» in their program, starting with Michail Pletnev, Nikolay Lugansky, the young generation, Daniil Trifonov, many are getting back and rediscovered this piece.
— Have you had visits from the performers and conductors that you’ve mentioned? Maybe you could name the Russian ones who were interested in visiting Villa Senar?
— Well, since the death of Alexander Rachmaninoff the Foundation is in charge of founding the solution with the legal heirs who needs to be paid off for their part of the heritage. But they never opposed to us for opening the house for visits. Lots of people are coming, especially from Russia. In Russia, of course, there is a huge interest… And I could tell you also through the statistics of Instagram account of the foundation, it’s very interesting that the majority of people who is following us, come from Russia. It’s a destiny that links Rachmaninoff very strongly with his native country and Russians to Rachmaninoff, which they feel as an ideal man who was depicting their soul in such a profound and magnificent way.
— What has been happening to Villa during the pandemic? When do you hope to reopen? And. Actually, how can one get to it?
— During the pandemic, of course, we were forced to cancel all our public activities, we had been planning masterclasses for the first time at Villa Senar with two the most important Swiss pianists, one is Oliver Schnyder, the other one is Francesco Piemontesi, in connection and with partnership with other foundations in Switzerland, the masterclasses were opened for the musicians around the world. Unfortunately, we canceled it during pandemic. We still opened the house for private groups, but now, unfortunately, only small groups, we are not allowed make more than five people to enter. We keep showing the house for people who are interested. So, the house can be visited. Of course, we have to make a careful planning of visits, because there is no such thing that you ring the bell, you pay for a ticket and you visit the house. It’s a bit more complex. But for people who are interested to enter, we’re very happy to open the house, to show it and to explain where we are with a project of transforming Senar to a cultural center dedicated to Sergei Rachmaninoff, which was, in fact, the wish expressed in the testament of Alexander Rachmaninoff.
Villa Senar is very close to Lucerne. From Lucerne you take a very beautiful boat, and you get to Hertenstein, in 35 minutes you’re in Hertenstein. And from Hertenstein you have a nice walk through the hill, and you get to Villa Senar. The area of Hertenstein is the protected place, so you cannot build anymore. It’s a beautiful walk in the middle of the forest and in the middle of nature of Senar. It is also the part of inspiration and the inspirational strength of this place. I think, it’s very important that as many people as possible will be aware of the existence of this place. Of course, Alexander kept it very private because it was his house. But, somehow, he was preparing, for after his death, the way of this house to become public and to become a memorial for Rachmaninoff, not only the musician, but the historical figure.
— You have also digitalized the Rachmaninoff’s archive. Could you tell us more about it?
— Yes, we have a very successful partnership with an association, called «The Rachmaninoff Network» based in Holland. «The Rachmaninoff network» is an amazing group of people who have access to museum specialists of all kind. So, thanks to their help, we have been able to, first of all, to stabilize the materials, don’t forget that these materials have been here for eighty years, and paper is subject to deterioration. They have been stabilizing and slowly one by one digitalized the material of the archives and now we are, of course, have the digital archives available. But in order to protect the material from abuse we had to also create a kind of encoding procedure from the people who use the material commercially for their own purpose. We are in the process of protecting the materials from abuse. We are working with «The Rachmaninoff Network» as a priority. But now we are also establishing the partnership with the Lucerne Music School to cooperate on several aspect, on different levels of development of Villa Senar.
— Do you have documents that have never been seen by any biographers of the composer?
— Many documents, in fact. We have a huge number of documents, letters to his daughter where he speaks about all different things. Also we have a lot of letter that Rachmaninoff received in Senar from his inner circle of friends and people. This circle is a very important circle that counts people like Konstantin Somov, Nabokov, Chaliapin, Bunin… many figures not to talk, of course, about Vladimir Horowitz, Nathan Milstein. So lot of great people from the international circles who had been corresponding with Rachmaninoff, while he was at Senar.
There are several projects we are considering, with a legal heirs, of course, involved, need to be part of it. The dream idea is to create a sort of global Rachmaninoff database, where all the documents regarding Rachmaninoff, which, at the moment, are spread in different places, could be available digitally for scholars and student in one database. This is one of our dreams, which we are trying to develop together with «The Rachmaninoff network». And it will also include the partnership with the most important places where Rachmaninoff heritage is spread, like the Glinka Museum in Moscow, the Library of Congress in Washington. And also the family Wanamaker, the US branch of the Rachmaninoff family, which still has a considerable private archive at their hands. They are the heirs of Irina and her daughter Sophie. They are also preserving an important amount of letters, documents, photos. Also, the piano witch Sergei has in his apartment in New York, and then Beverly Hills, some paintings…
— Who is now advocating and promoting Villa Senar and Rachmaninoff’s legacy?
— The Rachmaninoff Foundation is the entity, which Alexander left to be entitled to continue his work. He left Villa Senar to the Rachmaninoff Foundation with duty to transform this house to a cultural center. And the Rachmaninoff foundation counts on a group of fantastic people, starting with our president, Urs Ziswiler, who is a former Swiss high-ranked diplomat. He was, by the way, one of his last duties was Swiss ambassador in the US. Then we have Hans Ambühl, vice-president, who was a former very important figure in cultural life of the Canton of Lucerne. We have Valentine Gloor, who is the Director of the Lucerne Music School. Also, Andreas Wegelin, who is the chairman of «SUISA», which is the copyright company in Switzerland. Then we have Christine Rhomberg, who is the general manager of the Hilti Foundation, she is also a very important figure in cultural life of Switzerland. And to end with Bruno Hamard, who was the general manager of the «Orchestre de Paris», now he is the general director of the «Opera de Dijon» with our French friend. We have also, of course, people like Denis Matsuev, our great ambassador in Russia. We have Welz Kauffman, who was the former CEO of the Ravinia Festival and now our representative in the US. Timonthy Walker, who was the general manager of London Philharmonic Orchestra and now in represents us in Australia. We have a lot of friends, we have Geoffrey Norris who is one of the great scholars of Rachmaninoff, he is constantly in touch with us with new projects. He is working on the edition of the old interviews that Rachmaninoff gave in his life, which will be published in 2023 for the big anniversary of Rachmaninoff. He is a fantastic guy; he is a fan of Alexander Rachmaninoff and one of his most trustful people. He really trusted only him when it was kind of dispute: Rachmaninoff material, Rachmaninoff autographs, original manuscripts. Geoffrey was also the person of reference for Alexander. And then to end up with a very important man and our close friend Heinz Horat, he was a former director of the State Museum of Lucerne. And he is helping to keep Villa Senar in shape with all responsibilities with which the historical cultural heritage needs to be preserved. So we have really great people who support us.
— If visitors come to visit, can they stay at the Villa or they have to have a place at Lucerne where to return after their visit?
— They are plenty of hotels in Weggis, just in the walking distance you have plenty of very nice hotels. I mean, starting with very luxury places like the «Chenot Palace», where you can also have your detox treatment. Or the Campus Hotel Hertenstein… Plenty of hotels! It’s a very touristic place now, Weggis. And Hertenstein is a peninsula, which starts from the end of the village of Weggis into the very natural area. And Villa is in the middle of this peninsula. That’s why it’s a fantastic, naturally protected area.
— And what has been Denis Matsuev doing to represent you? What do you know?
— Denis Matsuev is our artistic ambassador, he is, of course, one of the greatest performers of Rachmaninoff music. And we are in a very good and constant contact with him. He’s been advocating our cause to the Russian authorities, he has made the Russian authorities interested about Senar and he is helping us to accomplish our duty.
— I mean, in a way, the Russian part in me is surprised that Rachmaninoff needs some kind of advertising and advocating, because he is such a big and great figure. Like my mum has been reading all about him and, I think, she wants to visit Ivanovka just to see a place. She told me she had read about Senar, that there were 300 rainy days there, is true?
Ha-ha. This is, in fact, one of the big changes is the weather. We are also experiencing it in Switzerland. And I have to say, with all events and visits we were presenting in Senar we have always had great weather. Of course, sometimes it’s cold, now it’s cold and it’s been snowing recently very much there. But it’s no longer a place, where it rains all the time. I even can say that we had for a problem the first time in 2018, because in summer the grass was damaged by the heat. We experienced a quite dramatic situation, because we have 2 acres, 20 000 square meters of land which is all grass and plants, so lots of water went down to save it.
— What challenges and goals do you have now? If some of the readers happen to want to participate somehow financially or in other ways, how could they take part in?
— Of course, the challenges are many. The first challenge is that we have to pay off the legal heirs, the children of Alexander, because they have their rights on the heritage. So they need to be paid off. And they expect their heritage right to be respected and we are absolutely willing to do it. So we are working in order to find donors and finances to respect their heritage rights. On the other side, we are now facing the cost of maintenance of Villa Senar. I mean, everybody who was an idea about real estate, knows how much it costs to maintain in good shape 2 acres of park and two big houses. We are facing this challenge and we are starting very soon an association of Friends of Villa Senar. We make it public as soon as the structure will be ready. To collect funds, which help to keep Villa Senar as it is today. Besides the funds we have to pay to the children, we now have also this very important duty which is to maintain Villa Senar, which Alexander did splendidly during his lifetime. And today it’s our duty to secure the Villa in order, the quality of the house, the running costs, starting from water, electricity to the cleaning and the maintenance of the park.
— So if somebody reads this article and they want to participate, they have to join the association of friends, yes?
— The Friends of Villa Senar, as soon as it will start to exist, yes. At the moment, people can also make donations directly to the Rachmaninoff Foundation. They can go to our website and find contact information, where they can be in touch with us. And we will welcome them. We usually don’t have fixed tickets, we ask visitors to give what they can. When very wealthy people come to visit Senar, we expect them to help us somehow.
We are preparing materials for the 3D experience of Senar to be available digitally, also with our friends from the Rachmaninoff Network. It takes time and takes investment, but I think, at some point, people will be able to visit digitally in 3D the Villa Senar. So we hope step by step it will be realized, plans are there. But, the most important, the Villa Senar is protected. We need help of as many people as possible to keep the situation as it is.