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Koussevitzky, Serge

Koussevitzky, Serge

Born in 1874


Inducted in 1998

Serge Koussevitzky, who was to perform immeasurable service to American music in his quarter century at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (1924-1949), grew up in a family of enthusiastic amateur musicians. At 14 he went off to Moscow, determined to become a professional musician. As the only tuition fellowship available at the Moscow Philharmonic School was for performers on the double bass, he took up that instrument, joining the Bolshoi Theater orchestra when he turned 20, succeeding his teacher as principal seven years later, and then embarking on a brief but brilliant career as a touring virtuoso. In 1905 Koussevitsky left for Berlin. There, in 1907, he conducted a student orchestra, and the following year made his formal conducting debut with the Berlin Philharmonic. A few months later he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra, and then returned to Moscow, where in 1909 he founded his own orchestra, to champion new music by his compatriots as well as the established classics. In 1910 Koussevitzky chartered a steamboat on which he conducted his orchestra at various stops along the full length of the Volga River, bringing symphonic music to audiences who had never been in a concert hall. Eventually settling in Paris, Koussevitzky organized an orchestra for his own concert series, The Fabled Concerts, in which he was to commission and introduce such works as Prokofiev’s Second Symphony and Ravel’s orchestral version of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and set up new headquarters for the Editions Russe de Musique, the publishing operation he had founded in 1909. For the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony, in 1931, he commissioned major works from such outstanding composers as Stravinsky, Roussel, Prokofiev, Hanson, Copland, Honegger and Hindemith, several of whom were invited to conduct their own works. In 1940 Koussevitzky realized a dream of his own and of Henry Lee Higginson, the Boston Symphony’s founder, in opening the Berkshire Music Center (since renamed Tanglewood Music Center), where a summer school with a faculty of incomparable distinction augmented the orchestra’s concerts. His assistant director was Copland; among his conducting students was Leonard Bernstein, who would himself retain an active connection with Tanglewood to the end of his life. To all of his projects Koussevitzky brought the same level of enthusiasm, vigor and intensity that distinguished his music making.