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Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951)

Koussevitzky as Boss: "I Played Fiddle for the Czar" and other Musician Perspectives

Koussevitzky was known for being exacting, terrifying and relentless in his pursuit of musical perfection. According to an interview with Willis Page (BSO bass, 1940-1943; 1945-1955), Koussevitzky was very clear that his orchestra was not a democracy. "I say do, and you do!" Explore some of these stories of musician experiences in the BSO under the direction of Serge Koussevitzky.

Newspaper article with several black and white headshots of Serge Koussevitzky conducting

Photo spread in the Providence Sunday Journal: “Musicians’ view of Dr. Serge Koussevitzky", February 16, 1941

Some various gestures that Koussevitzky used to indicate tempo, tone, and expression are enumerated in this photographic spread.

Cartoon figures of orchestra musicians surround a caricature of Serge Koussevitzky at the podium
Caricature portrait of the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky, 1936. Gift of Robert Ripley

Changes in personnel from the 1924-1925 season to the 1925-1926 season

These program book rosters from the 1924-1925 and 1925-1926 seasons, and a memo from BSO manager W. H. Brennan to BSO Board President Judge Frederick Cabot illustrate changes in personnel that Koussevitzky requested early in his tenure. Seventeen musicians did not return after the conductor’s first season. According to biographer Arthur Lourié, Koussevitzky was improving the quality of the orchestra’s sound. According to others, such as violinist Percy Paul Leveen, this personnel change was a “great purge.”

Listen: Charles Smith (BSO percussion, 1943-1990) talks about Koussevitzky's conducting

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Listen: Phil Kaplan (BSO flute, 1939-1970) talks about Koussevitzky as musical director

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