Born: December 22, 1901; St. Petersburg, Russia
Died: January 13, 1980; Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Andre Kostelanetz was one of the most successful conductors in history, mostly in the field of light music and pops, a field which he, as a Columbia Records artist, and Arthur Fiedler of the Boston Pops, on the RCA Victor label, dominated for decades. While Fiedler essentially created and shaped the modern American concept of the "pops concert," Kostelanetz invented a lush sound in his many arrangements of popular music for symphony orchestra,Read more and was more involved in what, today, would be called crossover material.
Kostelanetz studied at the conservatory of his native city, which by then had been renamed Petrograd, from 1920 to 1922. Near the end of the Russian Civil War, he left the country and settled in the United States. He got a job as a rehearsal pianist on the staff of the Metropolitan Opera and found opportunities in New York to conduct. In 1928, he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen. With the expansion of radio activity in the country, Kostelanetz obtained a position as a conductor with the CBS Radio network in 1930. His nationally broadcast program was an innovative blend of items from the standard concert repertory and his own arrangements of popular music. He devised a harmonically rich, lushly scored sound that was big and attractive on the radio and thereby became a success on the air. His habitual practice, of filling in harmonies by doubling melodies at the third or sixth, was highly influential and quickly appeared in Hollywood scoring. The effect can be heard in any film, from the 1930s into the 1950s, where popular-style melodies are used, the "Kostelanetz sound" having become also known as the Hollywood sound. This led to many guest appearances with U.S. orchestras. When CBS bought Columbia Records in the mid-'30s, chairman William Paley's first priority was to establish it as a classical label to rival the then dominant RCA Victor. Kostelanetz's popularity was a key part of Paley's strategy. The conductor was usually billed on discs as Andre Kostelanetz and His Orchestra. The musicians were usually from CBS, with additional freelancers hired in New York for the sessions. The best available estimate is that over 50 million Andre Kostelanetz records have been sold. These include his light classical and popular arrangements and some records reflecting his interest in attractive new classical music. He commissioned important works from several leading American composers. These included Aaron Copland (A Lincoln Portrait), William Schuman (New England Triptych), and Alan Hovhaness (The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam).
In 1938, Kostelanetz married Lily Pons, a French-born soprano who had become one of the Metropolitan Opera's favorite stars. The couple toured extensively to give concerts for American soldiers in the European and Pacific theaters of World War II. The advent of the LP and stereo age made his sound even richer, and his popularity continued, although he stepped up his guest conducting and withdrew somewhat from pop arranging after his radio concert activities ended, following the advent of television. He and Miss Pons were divorced in 1958. Kostelanetz, who had earlier conducted summer parks concerts of the New York Philharmonic, initiated the New York Philharmonic promenade concerts in 1962 and remained its conductor through 1978.
He died unexpectedly while on vacation in Haiti. His death brought widespread tributes, including ones from Zubin Mehta, as music director of the New York Philharmonic, and, during the last week of his administration, from President Jimmy Carter. His nephew, Richard Kostelanetz, is a prominent American music critic, writer, and composer. Read less