Martin Bookspan, the classical music expert and broadcaster who was the voice of “Live from Lincoln Center” for 30 years (from 1976-2006) has died. He was 94 and divided his time among homes in New York, Massachusetts and Florida. Bookspan was a valued member of the Milken Archive of Jewish Music editorial board, where he was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of music and the recording business.
“Martin was a world authority on the history of classical recordings,” said Milken Archive artistic Director Neil Levin. “No matter how obscure the work, he knew if there was a recording, what year it was recorded and by whom. Martin was especially valuable in fulfilling the Archive’s mission to preserve and disseminate works that might otherwise be lost.”
Bookspan was born and raised in Boston, an only child in a tenement home that, according to a 2006 New York Times article, “resounded with cantorial music and Yiddish and Russian folk songs in his parents' glorious voices.” And there was classical music radio from the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera, the Cleveland Symphony and the NBC Symphony.
At 13, Bookspan’s knowledge of classical music was already so great that he received an honorable mention in a contest sponsored by the Boston Pops and the Boston Herald. First place was won by another Boston Jewish classical music aficionado who would become a lifelong friend, Leonard Bernstein.
Bookspan graduated Harvard in 1947. While there, he conducted his first live interview with Aaron Copeland for WHRB, the college radio station. Beginning in the late 1950s, Bookspan was the broadcaster for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and then the New York Philharmonic. From 1956 to 1967, he was the music director and program director at WQXR, New York’s classical music radio station.
From 1976 until his retirement in 2006, Bookspan was host of the PBS program “Live from Lincoln Center.” He guided listeners as to what they would hear, set it in context, shared anecdotes and trivia about the performers, the performance, and the composers, educating several generations of classical music lovers. He was also for many years the announcer for “Live from the Met.”
"Basically, if I have a technique, it's the technique of the sportscaster," Bookspan told the New York Times in 2006. "As sportscasters make the game come alive, I hope I have made concerts come alive. I want the audience to become involved, to love what they're hearing."
Following his tenure at PBS, Bookspan became involved with the South Miami audience for classical music and became known to young people there as the voice of “Peter and the Wolf.” He continued his involvement with Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts, where he hosted the popular “This Week at Tanglewood” each Friday. As Neil Levin recalled, “Martin was a beloved presence there.”
Bookspan was the author of 101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers and, with Ross Yockey, co-authored Zubin: The Zubin Mehta Story and André Previn: A Biography.
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