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Sergei Koussevitzky Edit Profile

conductor

Sergei Koussevitzky was a Russian conductor. In his day Koussevitzky was one of the big three American conductors, the others being Toscanini and Stokowski. Of the three, Koussevitzky was by far the most important to the cause of American music, for in him the composer had a spokesman and an exponent.

Background

Sergei Koussevitzky was born on July 26, 1874 in Russia. Son of Alexander and Anne (Barabeitchik) Koussevitzky.

Education

Born in Tver, (now Kalinin). Russia, into a musical family, Koussevitzky learned to play the trumpet and performed, with his three brothers, in a small wind ensemble, playing at balls, weddings and village fairs. At the age of fourteen Koussevitzky moved to Moscow where he was baptized, as Jews were not allowed to live in the city.

He was then permitted to study the double bass at the Musico-Dramatic Institute in Moscow. He chose this instrument not because he had any special affinity to it, but because there were open scholarships only for the horn, trombone, and the double bass.

Career

In 1894 he joined the orchestra of the Bolshoi Opera, where in 1901 he became principal double bass player. Soon he became a renowned double bass soloist, an instrument of very low visibility at the time.

In 1901 Koussevitzky gave his first public concert in Moscow, performing an adaptation of the Handel cello concerto. In 1903 he gave a double bass recital in Berlin. He composed a few pieces for his instrument in order to widen the relative limited

repertoire, and premiered his own double bass concerto, which he wrote with the help of Reinhold Gliere, in 1905 in Moscow.

Soon after, he resigned from his position at the Bolshoi orchestra and explained, in an open letter to the Russian Musical Gazette, that economic and artistic difficulties in the orchestra had led to his decision. He left Russia and settled in Germany, where he continued to perform on the double bass and began his conducting career, making his debut in 1908 with the Berlin Philharmonic.

In 1909 Koussevitzky established a publishing house, Editions Russes de Musiquc, and signed contracts with famous composers. In the same year he organized his own symphony orchestra in Moscow, performing many premieres by Russian composers. He took his orchestra on several tours to cities along the Volga, on a special chartered steamboat. After the 1917 revolution Koussevitzky became the director of the State Symphony Orchestra, a post that he held for three years.

In 1920 Koussevitzky left Russia, and traveled to Berlin and Rome before settling in Paris, where he continued to conduct many works by Russian and French composers. In 1924 he was engaged as the permanent conductor of the Boston Symphony, a position he held for twenty-five years. In Boston Koussevitzky continued with his ongoing crusade, championing new music. He encouraged American composers to write especially for the Boston Symphony and premiered works by Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, William Schuman, and many others. In the 1950s, after he left Boston, Koussevitzky began conducting regularly all over the world, from Rio de Janeiro to Jerusalem, as well as in Europe.

Achievements

  • Koussevitzky established the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Massachusetts, which eventually became the summer home of the Boston Symphony and is still one of the most prestigious summer festivals in North America.

Membership

Clubs: Tavern, Harvard (Boston).

Personality

  • “A glamorous, egocentric figure, Koussevitzky managed to make every concert an experience, partly through his own overwhelming personality, partly through the great orchestra he had built. Music in Boston revolved around him. He was the star and he hated to share the spotlight. Not only did the Boston Symphony have very few guest conductors during Koussevitzky’s tenure; it also had fewer soloists than any comparable orchestra the world over. Those years in Boston from 1924 to 1949 did represent what the Russians used to call a cult of personality. But what a personality!

    Harold C. Schoenberg, The Great Conductors.”

Connections

Married Nathalie Oushkoff, September 8, 1905 (deceased).

father:
Alexander Koussevitzky

mother:
Anne (Barabeitchik) Koussevitzky

spouse:
Nathalie Oushkoff