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Inspired by Koussevitzky’s example, Paul Fromm, a Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany who had made a fortune in the wine business, sponsored a series of contemporary music concerts within the Tanglewood festival in 1956, and continued to do so for almost 30 years. Fromm eventually ended his sponsorship in 1984 to protest Gunther Schuller’s refusal to program music of such new composers as John Cage and Steve Reich. But Fromm’s idea of a contemporary music festival-within-a-festival remained and still endures, as does his foundation to commission new scores.
Although Koussevitzky himself is buried in a Christian cemetery in Lenox, in his last concerts he conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and after a highly emotional concert in Tel Aviv, he decided to donate his entire music library to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, stipulating that any Israeli ensemble could use the materials. His widow, Olga Koussevitzky (niece of his second wife Natalie), together with Bernstein formed the Music for Israel Committee. Seranak — his Lenox estate, named by combining the names Ser(ge) a(nd) Na(talie) K(oussevitzky) — has become a shrine to his memory. The estate now serves as housing for many of the festival’s visiting artists. Koussevitzky’s clothes and shoes are still kept in his room there, as if he’d only gone on a trip.
If Koussevitzky returned, he might be surprised at the size of the Tanglewood Festival, but he certainly would recognize it, as he established the blueprint for everything it has become. It has doubled in size, acquired a new concert hall and enjoys at least 350,000 visitors annually, but it is all still the realization of the original, far-reaching vision of this son of two shtetl musicians who, as critic Lebrecht put it, “gave America a thriving heartland of music creativity.”
From now until September 2, Tanglewood offers free Web streaming of historic Tanglewood performances — 75 in all.
Raphael Mostel is a composer based in New York City (www.mostel.com).