This week, Gary Lemco will be presenting conductor Serge Koussevitzky—his performances, his legacy. Koussevitzky was a significant conductor in the 1900s, and was a champion of new music, in performance and in commissions.
The Music Treasury can be heard on Sunday, 2 September, from 19:00 to 21:00 PDT, on its host station KZSU in the Bay Area, as well as in the concurrent streaming at kzsu.stanford.edu.
Serge Koussevitzky, conductor and publisher
Serge Koussevitzky, whose original name was Sergey Aleksandrovich Kusevitsky, was born July 14 [July 26, New Style], 1874, in Vyshny Volochyok, Russia and died June 4, 1951, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. A champion of modern music, he commissioned and performed many important new works.
“The Rare Koussevitzky” offers the opportunity to hear scores in performances that for many years were suppressed by the Koussevitzky Trust. In recent times, these archives have opened up to collectors via released broadcast transmissions and “pirate” transcriptions. Virtually all of this evening’s works derive from non-commercial recordings captured in performance.
Koussevitzky studied the double bass in Moscow, becoming a virtuoso, and gave recitals in Russia, Germany, and England at which he played his own compositions; his double bass concerto (1905) became a repertory piece.
He first conducted in 1908 in Berlin, leaving the following year to form his own orchestra in Moscow and to found a publishing firm for Russian music; its catalog included works by Aleksandr Scriabin (whose music Koussevitzky especially championed), Sergey Rachmaninoff, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergey Prokofiev. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, he directed the State Symphony Orchestra in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), but left Russia in 1920. In Paris (1921) he organized annual concerts, conducting many new works by Russian and French composers.
From 1924 to 1949 in the U.S., Koussevitzky conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra and gave first performances of works by Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Walter Piston, and other contemporary American composers. In 1931, for the orchestra’s 50th anniversary, he commissioned works by Ravel, Prokofiev, and George Gershwin, as well as Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. He later assumed direction of the Berkshire Music Festival, and in 1940 established the Berkshire Music Center, at which summer courses were given by outstanding American and European musicians. In 1942 he organized the Koussevitzky Foundation to commission and perform new works.
Koussevitzky’s conducting style was highly individual. His interpretations of the works of Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, and other Romantic composers were marked by rhapsodic animation, and he imparted a similar quality to compositions of the modern school.
Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Overture, Op. 36
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 26 in D Major, K. 537 “Coronation” (w/R. Casadesus)
Copland: Quiet City
Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21 (w/O.R.T.F., 1950)
Franck: Symphony in D Minor (Hunter College, 1946)