Gustav Meier, the much beloved Professor Emeritus of Conducting at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, passed away on Friday, May 26, 2016 at his home in Ann Arbor. Meier, 86, had been receiving treatment for cancer and was under hospice care at his home.
"The School of Music, Theatre & Dance has lost a great colleague and friend," said Jerry Blackstone, current chair of the Department of Conducting. "Gustav was the epitome of collegiality and high artistic integrity. We all knew that twinkle in his eyes, and loved every opportunity to hear him lead the orchestra, watch him teach, and receive his wise comments. I was honored to call him friend."
Born in Switzerland, Meier was a graduate of the Zurich Conservatory and also studied at the Academia Chigiana in Siena, Italy and the Tanglewood Music Center. Acclaimed as a conductor, he was also internationally known for his consummate pedagogical skills. He taught at SMTD from 1976-1996, training a generation of conductors who have gone on to illustrious careers, including Yakov Kreizberg and Damon Gupton.
Meier's arrival at SMTD ushered in a new era of symphonic excellence at Michigan, when performances by the University Symphony Orchestra became highlights on the School's concert calendar. Special annual events that he initiated became important traditions in the community and continue to this day, including the annual "Collage Concert," which showcases student talent across all disciplines, and the Halloween Concert, performed by a costumed orchestra. He also launched Mozart birthday celebrations and took the USO on tour to Evian, France, in 1981 and to Salzburg, Austria, in 1989. He received the University of Michigan's Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award in 1982.
Most recently, Meier was director of the graduate conducting program at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. He had also taught at Yale University, the Eastman School of Music, and Tanglewood Music Center, and led conducting workshops around the world including Vancouver, Canada; Cabrillo, California; New York City; Beijing, China; Prague, Czech Republic; and Sofia, Bulgaria.
Meier's students have appeared with every major orchestra and opera company in the United States and abroad. Some are currently serving as music directors of major ensembles, including Marin Alsop, the first woman to be named music director of a major American orchestra (Baltimore), who is also music director of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and the Cabrillo Festival. At the time of his death in 2011, Yakov Kreizberg was the chief conductor of the Netherlands Philharmonic and Netherlands Chamber Orchestras, and music director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo.
Other of Meier's students have won first prizes in prestigious conducting competitions such as the Karajan in Berlin, Stokowski and Lorin Maazel competitions in New York City, the First International Eduardo Mata Conducting Competition in Mexico City, and the Mario Gusella International Competition in Pecara, Italy.
Honored with the Ditson Prize for his commitment to American music, Meier was also the recipient of awards from Harvard and Columbia Universities, the Max Rudolf Award from the Conductors Guild of America, and honorary doctorates from Fairfield University (Connecticut), Kalamazoo College (Michigan), and Michigan State University.
Throughout his celebrated teaching career, Meier was simultaneously leading orchestras around the globe, including the Zurich Tonhalle, Sao Paolo, China National, Pittsburgh, Colorado and Alabama Symphony Orchestras; New York City, Santa Fe, Miami, San Francisco, Zurich, and Minnesota Opera Companies; and the Budapest and Vienna State Opera Orchestras. He also served as music director of the Greater Lansing Symphony for 27 seasons, and of the Greater Bridgeport Symphony in Connecticut for 41 years, retiring in 2013. In 2010, Meier's book, The Score, the Orchestra, and the Conductor, was published by Oxford University Press, written to "demystify the conductor's craft."