LENOX -- Then there was William Steinberg, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s music director from 1969 to 1972.
He was a kindly man, violinist Ronald Knudsen remembers. Once during rehearsal, the orchestra just couldn’t give him the effect he was looking for, despite repeated attempts.
"Finally he put his baton down," Knudsen recalls, "and he said, ‘Gentlemen, that sounds like it but that’s not it.’ "
The fond vignette is one of many from Knudsen’s memory album from 48 years in the BSO, which end with his formal retirement on Sunday He’d been hoping to go for 50 but injuries -- first a sticking index finger, then a fall and broken hip - made him decide it was time to stop.
He’s not giving up music, though. He’ll stay on as director of the New Philharmonia Orchestra, a community orchestra in Newton, and he and his wife, Adrienne, will continue to run the Curtisville Consortium, a loose organization of BSO members and friends who give summer chamber concerts in Trinity Church in Lenox.
"The people still want to play," he said, seeming happily surprised, in an interview on the Tanglewood grounds. "Every year we wonder if people still want to do it. But they do."
Founded in 1970, the group takes its name from the Curtisville section of Stockbridge, where it originally performed.
Actually, "Ron" Knudsen, 82, has been on sick leave for the last two years because of his injuries. His 48 years don’t come up to the record set by Roland Tapley, a violinist from 1920 to 1979, but his longevity gives him a retrospective view of four music directors, going from Erich Leinsdorf, who hired him, to James Levine.
His favorites: Steinberg, whose tenure was cut short by sickness, and Seiji Ozawa, who lasted 29 years.
Ozawa, he recalls "was probably the most personal conductor we’ve had, in terms of everyday relationships. He would play tennis [with us], and he would play golf, that kind of thing. Very human, an outgoing guy."
And he could conduct just about anything from memory.
As for Steinberg, "I thought he was a really marvelous musician, good sense of humor. His conducting technique was less than adequate at that time in his life, but it still worked very well."
Leinsdorf: "very old-school, Germanic, and very stern, very precise."
Levine: "an incredible musicologist. He seemed to know all the facts behind what he was conducting Š He worked us hard, especially at first, but I think we did pretty well with him."
Director-designate Andris Nelsons: Never played under him but heard him and was impressed.
Born in Nebraska and raised in Minnesota, Knudsen studied at the Tanglewood Music Center in 1958 and played in the Baltimore and Detroit orchestras before coming to the BSO in 1969. He began his conducting sideline while serving as concertmaster and assistant conductor of the community orchestras of Brockton and Newton. In 1995, the newly formed New Philharmonia invited him to be its director.
He has also been a soloist and conductor with the Boston Pops. He made his podium debut with the Pops in a 1990 program that featured his son, cellist Sato Knudsen, a BSO member 29 years, as soloist. They are the fourth father-son combination in the orchestra’s history.
Looking back, Knudsen has seen a considerable evolution in the BSO since Leinsdorf hired him.
"It was a very good orchestra at that time," he says. "But if I had to audition today, I don’t think I’d make it, because the level of playing has risen so much in every section. The orchestra sounds these days, from my point of view, very, very good, very integrated. Everything is working well."
Knudsen caught the conducting bug as assistant in Brockton and Newton. In Newton, the director would go off to pursue his career in Europe, leaving Knudsen to take most of the rehearsals. The director would then return for the dress rehearsal and concert, "getting the glory."
Where was the fun in that? When the director left, Knudsen took the job himself.
In Newton, Knudsen and his wife, who is a lawyer and cellist, live in a historic Victorian house, which he has worked at restoring. Their daughter, Mayumi, is a graphic designer. Four grandchildren live in the area.
He has another valued role in the BSO. He repairs string instruments -- not just for BSO members in need but also, he says, for guest artists, including, in the past, Mstislav Rostropovich, Yo-Yo Ma, Midori, Pinchas Zukerman and Joshua Bell.
He brings his workshop with him from Newton when the couple comes to their summer home in Lenox. There’s plenty to do, he says. Most of the problems involve bows and their hair, but in the summer humidity, players’ instruments come unglued.
"Up here, if they run into problems, where are they going to go?" he says. "They have a problem in the morning, they have to play at night."
And weather problems haven’t changed in 48 years.