Sadness: Martin Bookspan has died

Sadness: Martin Bookspan has died


norman lebrecht

May 01, 2021

The international music critic, broadcaster and author has passed away at the age of 94. He was a cherished colleague.

His family have sent us this notice:

Martin Bookspan, 94, classical music broadcaster, author, critic and lecturer died peacefully at his home in Florida on April 29, 2021.

As broadcaster, Mr. Bookspan’s storied career spanned eight decades and included serving as: Commentator for the PBS series Live From Lincoln Center for its first 30 years; The Voice of the New York Philharmonic; Host and Commentator for the radio broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on WQXR and the QXR Network; and a charter member of the reviewing panel for the nationally syndicated radio series, First Hearing.” Mr. Bookspan was Commentator for the broadcasts of the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina and the Chamber Music Concerts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Additionally he served as Host and Commentator for the broadcast concerts of the American Symphony Orchestra
under its founder, Leopold Stokowski.

Mr. Bookspan served as Music and Dance critic for WABC-TV, Channel 7, Theater
Critic for WPIX, Channel 11, in New York, and Critic-at-Large for WNAC-TV in
Boston. Mr. Bookspan also was a Host for the NBC Television series, “The Eternal
Light and served for 5 years as Announcer for the CBS-TV soap opera, “Guiding
In a lifetime dedicated to advancing the role of classical music in society, he served
as Coordinator of Symphonic and Concert Activities for ASCAP, Vice President and
Director of Artists and Repertory of the Moss Music Group, and on the Boards of the
American Music Center, the League of American Symphony Orchestras and the
Association for Classical Music, among others. He was a Consultant to the National
Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Milken Family Foundation,
Madison Square Garden, and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. He also was
an adjunct professor of music at NYU, and hosted a roundtable discussion series
“This Week at Tanglewood” at the Berkshire Museum and from the stage at
As author, Mr. Bookspan wrote more than 500 reviews of newly released LP
recordings in his monthly column “The Basic Repertoire” in Stereo Review. He was
Tape Critic and Columnist for The New York Times and record reviewer for
Consumer Reports. His books include: 101 Masterpieces of Music and Their
Composers; Consumer Reports Reviews Classical Music; and written in
collaboration with Ross Yockey, biographies of Andre Previn and Zubin Mehta.
During the course of his 60-year broadcast career Mr. Bookspan interviewed
hundreds of present and past luminaries in the world of classical music, among
them Maurice Abravanel, Marian Anderson, Ernest Ansermet, Claudio Arrau,
Emanuel Ax, Sir John Barbirolli, Daniel Barenboim, Sir Thomas Beecham, Joshua
Bell, Leonard Bernstein, William Bolcom, Pierre Boulez, Yefim Bronfman, Pablo
Casals, Van Cliburn, Aaron Copland, John Corigliano, Stephane Deneve, Antal Dorati,

Arthur Fiedler, Gordon Getty, Glenn Gould, Giancarlo Guerrero, Marilyn Horne,
Vladimir Horowitz, James Judd, Serge Koussevitzky, Erich Leinsdorf, Keith Lockhart,
Yo-Yo Ma, Lorin Maazel, Israela Margalit, Ken-David Masur, Kurt Masur, Zubin
Mehta, Robert Merrill, Nathan Milstein, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Pierre Monteux,
Charles Munch, David Oistrakh, Eugene Ormandy, Seiji Ozawa, Jan Peerce, Itzhak
Perlman, Andre Previn, Leontyne Price, Tony Randall, Arthur Rubinstein, William
Schuman, Beverly Sills, Leonard Slatkin, Sir George Solti, William Steinberg, Isaac
Stern, Leopold Stokowski, George Szell, Josef Szigeti, Michael Tilson Thomas,
Richard Tucker, John Williams, Pinchas Zukerman, Jaap Van Zweden and Ellen Taafe
Zwillich, and was privileged to become close friends with many.
A cum laude graduate of Harvard College, class of 1947, Martin Bookspan appeared
frequently with symphony orchestras as narrator, bringing his mellifluous voice to
classic works for speaker and orchestra including: Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait”
which he performed with the National Symphony Orchestra under the composer’s
direction, and with the Boston Pops under the direction of both Arthur Fiedler and
Keith Lockhart; and his own text for Saint Saëns’ “Carnival of the Animals,” which he
performed with John Williams and the Boston Pops.
Martin Bookspan was awarded the Honorary Degrees Doctor of Music by the
Mannes College of Music of The New School University and Doctor of Humane
Letters by Suffolk University. Other honors were Letter of Merit from the American
Music Center, Medal of Honor from the National Arts Club, Special Award from The
Concert Artists Guild, Lifetime Achievement Award from Fine Arts Radio
International, and induction into the Classical Music Hall of Fame.
Born in Boston in 1926, Martin Bookspan’s other passions were his family,
chocolate ice cream and the Boston Red Sox.
Mr. Bookspan’s wife of 54 years, opera director and drama coach Janet Bookspan, died in 2008. He is survived by their three children: Rachel Sobel (Richard), David Bookspan, Deborah Margol (Scott), 6 grandchildren, 1 great-grandchild, and a world full of music.
Funeral arrangements are private. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made
online, by mail, or by phone to:
Tanglewood Annual Fund
Friends of The Boston Symphony
Memorial Contributions
301 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 638-9267

American-Israel Cultural Foundation
178 Columbus Avenue
P.O. Box 237133
New York, NY 10023
212-557-1600  x 4



  • J Barcelo says:

    What a great guy he was! His book 101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers helped me build a basic – and very fine – LP library way back when. I enjoyed very much conversing with him on line 30 years ago before the internet when he was the classical monitor for Prodigy. And First Hearing was essential listening for me. RIP – a life well lived.

  • MacroV says:

    He lived a long and interesting life; we should all be so fortunate. I know him mainly from his role as announcer for the NY Philharmonic radio broadcasts and Live from Lincoln Center. He and Norman Pellegrini on the Chicago SO broadcasts were the voices of my musical youth.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      I’m right with you, MacroV – Bookspan, Pellegrini, and also Milton Cross. I can still hear their voices in my mind’s ear.

      • Alank says:

        Both Bookspan and Pellegrino imbued their annotations with informed and unbridled enthusiasm for which I shall always be grateful

    • BRUCEB says:

      …also William Pierce with the “Bawston Symphony Orchestra.”

  • Brian Bell says:

    Truly the end of an era. Without question the finest classical music announcer of the 20th century in America. His memorable voice was at the service of his greatest asset, the comprehensive knowledge of all the composers and performers in the musical galaxy. He will be missed.

  • Hal Sacks says:

    I much preferred Martin to the patrician William Pierce. Both were from Boston, 1 chose to be a Brahmin.

    • BRUCEB says:

      I just made a comment higher up about Pierce and his pronunciation of the “Bawston Symphony Orchestra.”

  • Boruch dayan emess

  • Amos says:

    Along with William Pierce and Robert Conrad, Mr. Bookspan was one of the preeminent voices of classical music in America.

  • David Goodman says:

    He was a blessing. Condolences to his family.

  • Philip Myers says:

    Very sorry to hear of this. Martin was such a polite, class guy. I was interviewed by him several times, he always made one feel quite comfortable and I always felt that I learned something from him in those interviews. He was quite knowledgeable about everything music. I loved the “First Hearing” show. Those types of shows made classical music seem so vital to the time. Will miss him.

  • Tom Varley says:

    Very sad news, indeed. In the 60s and early 70s “The Basic Repertoire” was always the first thing I turned to on receiving the latest edition of Stereo Review. His book, “101 Masterpieces..” is basically an updated compilation of his Basic Repertoire articles but no less valuable (and enjoyable) for that. I, too, enjoyed his work as moderator of the classical music discussions on Prodigy in the early 90s. He was kind enough to autograph my over 20 years old even then and very dog-eared copy of 101 Masterpieces around that time on an occasion when he spoke before a Friday afternoon Philadelphia Orchestra concert that I took off from work to attend (Zinman conducting the Bernstein Serenade (with Dmitry Sitkovetsky) and the Elgar 2nd Symphony).

  • Christopher Purdy says:

    Mr. Bookspan was a great broadcaster and a kind and generous man. His wife Janet was a wonderful opera coach. Two warm and gifted people. R.I.P.

  • Sisko24 says:

    I had the lovely chance to meet him on the street in Manhattan outside the former Coliseum which has since been replaced by the Time-Warner Center. Mr. Bookspan was kind, gracious and surprised that anyone would stop to speak with him. I was so pleased to be able to tell him that I enjoyed his commentating, hosting of NY Philharmonic radio and TV broadcasts as well as reading his articles. I am saddened by his passing and extend my condolences to his family upon his death. May he rest in peace – and particularly in his case – may he rest in great and glorious music!

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Martin Bookspan will remain in my memory and his voice in my inner ear for the rest of my days along with the voices of several of the announcers mentioned on this thread. I too enjoyed his radio program First Hearing on WQXR NY where new recordings were reviewed by a distinguished panel.
    I also always read his comments on this site. RIP