Koussevitzky, Serge

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Koussevitzky, Serge

(Sergei Aleksandrovich Koussevitzky) (sĕrzh ko͞osəvĭt`skē; Rus. syĭrgā` əlyĭksän`drəvĭch ko͝osyĭvēt`skē), 1874–1951, Russian-American conductor, studied in Moscow. He began his career as a double bass player. In 1908 he made his debut as a conductor in Berlin. In 1910 he and his wife, Natalie, formed an orchestra that Koussevitzky conducted until 1918. In 1917 he was made conductor of the State Symphony Orchestra in Petrograd. Leaving Soviet Russia (1920), he stayed mainly in Paris until coming to the United States in 1924, becoming a citizen in 1941. He was conductor (1924–49) of the Boston Symphony OrchestraBoston Symphony Orchestra,
founded in 1881 by Henry Lee Higginson, who was its director and financial backer until 1918. The orchestra performed at the Old Boston Music Hall for nearly 20 years until the 2,625-seat Symphony Hall was built in 1900; its concerts continue to be
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, and also directed (from 1936) the Berkshire Symphonic Festivals, today known as the Tanglewood Music FestivalTanglewood Music Festival,
formerly the Berkshire Festival (until 1984), summer music festival held since 1937 at "Tanglewood," a former estate in the adjoining towns of Stockbridge and Lenox, Mass. The Berkshire Festival was begun in 1934 at a farm in Stockbridge.
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. A champion of new music and the first important maestro to emphasize modern American music, he created (1942) the Koussevitzky Foundation to commission and perform new works by American composers.


See biographies by M. Smith (1947) and A. Lourié (1931, repr. 1969); study by H. Leichtentritt (1946).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Koussevitzky, Serge


(Sergei Aleksandrovich Kusevitskii). Born July 14 (26), 1874, in Vyshnii Volochek; died June 4, 1951, in Boston. Russian conductor, double-bass player, and music figure.

Koussevitzky graduated in 1894 from the Moscow Philharmonic Society’s Music and Drama School, where he studied double bass; he became an instructor there in 1901. He gave double-bass recitals in Russia and abroad. He moved to Berlin in 1905, where he studied conducting with K. Muck and F. Weingartner and performed as a conductor. He founded the Russian Music Publishing House in 1909 to popularize the works of Russian composers. That same year Koussevitzky formed a symphony orchestra in Moscow with which he toured many Russian cities. From 1917 to 1920 he headed the State Symphony Orchestra (formerly, the Court Symphony Orchestra, Petrograd).

Koussevitzky moved abroad in 1920. From 1924 to 1949 he was chief conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with which he was the first to perform a number of new compositions, including Prokofiev’s Fourth Symphony, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Honegger’s First Symphony, Roussel’s Third Symphony, and Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie (many of them were written at his urging). Koussevitzky gave the first US performance of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony and Prokofiev’s Fifth. In 1943 he became president of the music section of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship.

Koussevitzky’s conducting was distinguished by smooth technique and the ability to combine emotion with self-control; his exacting standards brought his orchestras to a high level of technical perfection. Koussevitzky composed for the double bass.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Koussevitzky, Serge

(1874–1951) conductor; born in Vishny-Volochok, Russia. A virtuoso on the double bass, he took up conducting and in 1909 founded his own orchestra and publishing company in Moscow. After the Revolution he emigrated to Paris, where his Concerts Koussevitzky presented important new works by Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, and others. In 1924 he was named conductor of the Boston Symphony; he would conduct it for 25 years, a legendary era for the orchestra. He continued his historic advocacy of contemporary composers (though tending to conservative ones), commissioning major works from Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Prokofiev, as well as championing American composers including Copland, Piston, and Barber. In the 1930s he developed the orchestra's Tanglewood summer concerts and the associated school called the Berkshire Music Center (1940). After his retirement from the orchestra in 1949, he guest-conducted in Europe and the Americas.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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