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Koussevitzky as Musician: Before Boston (1874-1924)

Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951)

In 1924, Serge Koussevitzky became the BSO's ninth conductor. But his path to the podium started far earlier. Born in Vyshny Volochek, Russia, to a musical but poor family, he attended the Moscow Philharmonic Institute, studying the double bass because the instrument came with a scholarship. While still a student, he became a bass player at the Bolshoi Imperial Theatre. In 1905, he married heiress Natalie Ushkova, and the couple moved to Berlin. Koussevitzky hired a student orchestra to practice conducting, and in 1908, he hired the Berlin Philharmonic and made his conducting debut. In 1909, he founded a publishing company to support composers and promote new music. In 1910, 1912, and 1914, he took an orchestra on tour via the Volga River, stopping at towns that did not have symphony orchestras. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, he accepted a post as conductor of the State Philharmonic Orchestra of Petrograd, but left Russia in 1920 for Europe. In Paris in 1921, he organized a series entitled Concerts Koussevitzky that celebrated new works, which he continued to conduct in between his duties in Boston till the series ended in 1928.

A large clock tower stands in a wall surrounding a square

Hand-colored matte albumen print of the Spasskaya Tower in the eastern wall of the Kremlin in Moscow, c. 1890

This print is one of a set of four depicting scenes from the Kremlin around the turn of the 19th century. The four prints hung in Seranak, the home of the Koussevitzkys in the Berkshires near Tanglewood, possibly to remind them of their homeland.

Photographer unknown

Listen: Koussevitzky performing his Valse Miniature on double bass, September 25, 1929 (Biddulph WHL019)

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