Martin Bookspan

Back in the 1940s the Boston Symphony Orchestra used to make 250 seats available in Symphony Hall’s Second Balcony for its Friday afternoon concerts. These seats were made available on a first-come first-served basis. Called “rush” seats, the line to secure them assembled on the dozen or so steps at the Huntington Avenue entrance.

I started to be a “rusher” when I was about 15. There was always a young man in the line who could not have been older than 17—but he seemed to know everything about all the music we were about to hear. After a couple of Fridays on the line, I appoached him, introduced myself, and asked him his name. “Alan Rich” came the reply. Over the course of that season we became friends. In the Fall he entered Harvard. I followed him there two years later. One of Harvard’s best extra-curricular activities was its campus radio station, its broadcast signal accessible only in certain of the dormitories. Alan became a staff member of the station, then called The Harvard Crimson Network (later it acquired the imposing call letters WHRB).

When I entered Harvard, Alan urged me to try out for the station. I did, and after a 6-week “Pledge” period I became a staff member also. At the same time Alan had become an usher at Symphony Hall, attending all the concerts in Boston’s renowned concert hall Again Alan suggested I try to do likewise, which I did, and got the job of ushering in the location best-known to both of us—the second balcony! Thus it was that we both wre present when Serge Koussevitzky conducted the world premier performances of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, a work that Koussevitzky had commissioned. When Alan was graduated from Harvard, he went to New York to work at the CBS Radio Network and then made the great migration to California to work at Pacifica Radio.

Flash forward about 10 years. We kept in touch over the years, and at one point he said he longed to return to New York. At that time I was Program Director of WQXR, the classical music radio station then owned by the New York Times. I had become friendly with Harold Schonberg, then chief Music Critic of the Times. Harold at one point mentioned to me that he had an opening on his staff. “Have I got the man for you,” I said to Harold. “He’s lived in Los Angeles for some years, but I know he’d like to come back to New York. He’s a music maven and a terrifc writer. His name is Alan Rich.” Schonberg tracked Alan down, asked him to submit some examples of his reviews–and hired him. Thus began Alan’s extraordinary life as one of the nation’s most highly-regarded music critics.

After stints at the Tmes, the Herald-Tribune and New York Magazine, Alan pulled a reverse switch: from New York back to California. The 3,000 mile separation made our contact irregular, but it was always a pleasure to exchange musical thoughts and perspectives with him, even when we differed wildly on those thoughts and perspectives. Alan was an irreplaceable commentator on the national music scene, and all of us are the poorer at his passing.