Tomorrow is Serge Koussevitsky's birthday, but I want to celebrate him today, get a jump on the festivities --I can link to his recorded performances tomorrow.
Who was he? Pictured above, next to the taller (!) composer Aaron Copland, he was the commandingly sensitive Russian-born conductor who, along with Copland and others, taught the young Leonard Bernstein, and who created much of what the Boston Symphony's Summer home in the Berkshires, known as Tanglewood, became.
Tanglewood is where my family was forged, and so there's more than simple lineage there for me as a music lover.
I wrote about this subject for NPR last year when Tanglewood turned 75, but as my family would visit the festival at least once each summer, so shall I celebrate it annually.
Here's the short, somewhat-evergreen piece that I wrote about Tanglewood and how its lineage intertwines with that of my family for NPR: https://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/05/156288431/tanglewood-my-familys-transcendental-homeland
I have Koussevitsky to thank for many things, including that piece, and I'm not the only one. (See this link for a letter from Bernstein to Koussevitsky that I quote in the NPR piece.)
To think of what life was like for the young Bernstein, learning from the master Koussevitsky, and from Copland, some 70 years ago: All that I can say is that it's not just one film but a series of them from many perspectives that could never tell the stories well enough.
Koussevitsky, who led some of the most important live concerts of his day (some preserved on record), commissioned among other works Ravel's Piano Concerto, Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, and through his foundation had a hand in the creation of Copland's Third Symphony (including the famed Fanfare for the Comman Man), as well as Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and Britten's Peter Grimes, to say nothing of other staples of modern concert music.
A lot of people think of Bernstein and Copland when they think about Tanglewood, but the main music shed, where big concerts are held, is named after Koussevitsky, and sometimes I think that the whole 20th century in concert music could be named after him. Or at least include his name prominently, along with others.
Koussevitsky was driven by gratitude for music, for composers, and for those who loved making and listening to music. I'm grateful simply that he existed; in a practical sense, I might not have seen the light of day without him.