If the name of pianist Leonard Pennario seems inextricably linked in audiences' minds with that of Rachmaninoff, there's good reason. Pennario, who joins the Fairfax Symphony this afternoon in concert at the Kennedy Center, was a boy in Buffalo when he first heard Rachmaninoff play the piano; he was a teen-ager in Los Angeles, already established as a prodigy, when he last heard the Russian. And his career still bears witness to the impression that Rachmaninoff left.

"If anyone inspired me to want to be a pianist," Pennario, 61, says, "it was Rachmaninoff. He was the greatest pianist of the century." The guest soloist in the Fairfax Symphony's all-Rachmaninoff program, Pennario will play the Second Piano Concerto -- the same piece that the late conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos asked him to perform, 40 years ago, with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in a memorial concert for the Russian composer.

"It is a very romantic work," says Pennario of the concerto. "One must combine the glittering technical passages and project those wonderful tunes with a rich, singing tone."

Asked which idea arose first, the all-Rachmaninoff program or soloist Pennario, Fairfax Symphony music director and conductor William Hudson says, "I hate not to say Pennario, but I planned the program first. I had decided to do an all-Rachmaninoff program, with these two works.

"It happens that Pennario is one of the few pianists who plays Rachmaninoff especially well and who is firmly established in the top echelon of pianists."

The Fairfax Symphony will also perform Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2. The concert begins at 3 p.m. in the Concert Hall of the Kennedy Center.