The first major Russian conductor, Serge Koussevitzky was born in Vyshniy Volochek, Russia in 1874 to a family of musicians. At the age of fourteen he was given a scholarship to the Musico-Dramatic Institute in Moscow to study double bass and music theory. He excelled at the bass, joining the Bolshoi Theatre orchestra at age twenty and succeeding his teacher as the principal bassist at twenty-seven. As a soloist, he made his Moscow debut in 1901, and won critical accolades for his first Berlin recital in 1903. Koussevitzky married his first wife Natalie Ushkov, daughter of a wealthy merchant, in 1905 and moved to Germany.
In 1908, Koussevitzky made his professional debut as a conductor, hiring
and leading a concert with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. The next
year he founded his own orchestra in Moscow and branched out into the publishing
business, forming his own firm and buying the catalogues of many of the
greatest composers of the age, including Stravinsky, Scriabin, Prokofiev
and Rachmaninoff. During the period 1909 to 1920 he established himself
as a brilliant conductor in Europe. After the Russian Revolution, he returned
to his homeland for a brief time to conduct the State Symphony Orchestra
in Petrograd; in 1920, he made his way to Paris, where he organized the
Concerts Koussevitzky, presenting new works by Prokofiev, Stravinsky and
In 1924 he accepted the directorship of the Boston Symphony Orchestra beginning a golden era for that ensemble that would continue until 1949.
In Boston, Koussevitzky championed new music,commissioning important works from Copland, Harris, Piston, Barber, Hanson, Schuman, Bernstein, and his old friends, Stravinsky and Ravel. In 1936 he took over the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Mass.and in 1940 added a school, the Berkshire Music Center. In 1942 the Koussevitzky Foundation was established to commission and provide performances of new works.
At Tanglewood, Koussevitzky held classes in conducting and was succeeded in the post by his student, Leonard Bernstein. Since its founding Tanglewood has grown to become one of the world's major centres for musical education and has served as the musical springboard for countless instrumentalists, singers, conductors and composers.
Serge Koussevitzky died in Boston on June 4, 1951.
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