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July 26: Serge Koussevitzky

July 26, 2013

Sergei_KoussevitskyMusician and conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who led the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 25 years and established its presence at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, was born in Russia on this date in 1874. Koussevitzky married into wealth and debuted as a conductor by hiring the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1908 (with Serge Rachmaninoff at the piano). He then founded an orchestra in Moscow and also became a music publisher with a huge catalogue that included Rahmaninoff, Scriabin, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky, among others. Koussevitzky came to the U.S. to head the BSO in 1924. He was highly supportive of new composers and new works, and premiered such pieces as George Gershwin’s “Second Rhapsody” (1932), Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” (1945), and Leonard Bernstein’s “The Age of Anxiety” (1949). Koussevitzky was baptized in his early teens to permit his residency in Moscow, and was buried in a Christian grave.

“The overwhelming fact is that no conductor in the 20th century, not Toscanini and not Furtwängler, left such a decisive imprint on the character and direction of . . . music as did Serge Koussevitzky. Through the commissions he gave and the institutions he created, Koussevitzky changed the course of history and brought into being icons of twentieth-century culture . . .” —Leon Botstein