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Gordon Wright (Conductor)

Born: 1934 - Brooklyn, New York, USA
Died: February 14, 2007 - Indian, Alaska, USA

The American conductor, Gordon Wright, attended the College of Wooster in Ohio. He received a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin, where he started a chamber orchestra and ran an antiquarian music bookstore. He went on to study in Berlin and in Salzburg, Austria.

In 1960 Gordon Wright he founded the Madison Summer Symphony (which became the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra), and presented nine seasons of summer concerts.

Early in his career, Gordon Wright became fascinated with the music of Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek (1860-1945), a prolific late-Romantic German composer generally forgotten except for his effervescent Donna Diana Overture. That piece was used as the theme for the radio and television versions of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, about the adventures of a Mountie. Wright said listening to the radio show had piqued his interest in Reznicek's other works, and he began hunting down and performing his music. This led to his creation of the Reznicek Society, which was dedicated to promoting worthy but lesser-known composers. “If he could write a theme like that, I said to myself, how did his other music shape up?” Wright said in a 1990 interview with The New York Times. “So over the years I began to track down all of his scores I could find.”

Gordon Wright went to Alaska in 1969 as music director of the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra. In 1989, he left that position and retired as a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In his 20 year tenure as conductor of the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra he developed it into a polished ensemble performing full seasons of major symphonic works. In 1970 he founded the Arctic Chamber Orchestra (ACO), an offshoot of the symphony, touring annually to the farthest reaches of Alaska and the Yukon. He took the on tour to remote and musically bereft towns throughout the state, traveling on school buses, boats, seaplanes and even dog sleds. Concert dress sometimes included parkas. He conducted in Barrow, deep inside the Arctic Circle, and in Key West, Florida. Inga-Lisa Wright said he might have been the only person to lead performances in both the northernmost and southernmost locales in the country. The ACO also toured in Europe, The People's Republic of China and Spain.The tours were an ambitious Alaskan adventure, making great music while exploring the diverse cultures and vast expanses of Alaska; as well as other parts of the world, no matter how difficult the logistics of moving an orchestra around in remote areas of the bush or half way around the world. Gordon always insisted that the touring was intended to "share the music" without imposing a message.

Gordon Wright conducted orchestras in Germany, England, Holland, Norway, and Bulgaria. He also conducted orchestras in Anchorage, Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington state, Montana, and Idaho among others. He conducted three concerts in Town Hall in New York City with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s presenting the nearly forgotten music of the composer Emil von Reznicek. He became the Principal Guest conductor of the Keys Chamber Orchestra in 2003 presenting consecutive spring concerts in the Florida Keys. He has the distinction of directing orchestras in the most southern and northern points of the USA.

Gordon was equally at home on a podium in a concert hall, or in his rustic cabin in the wilderness. His passion for Alaska carried over to environmental activism. Gordon spearheaded the founding of the Fairbanks Environmental Center in 1971, now known as the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. His love for Alaska's wilds was a major theme in his life.

The bearded Gordon Wright, who stood 6-feet, 6-inches tall, was also a hardy outdoorsman who camped, hiked and kayaked in the Alaskan wilds, sometimes in the company of bears. He was one of Alaska's best known and beloved musicians. His many friendships and contributions were carried on with pervasive humor and well known philosophical irony. Radio and TV notables such as Tom Brokaw, Charles Kurault, Garrison Keillor and Michael Feldman found his story compelling, and interviewed him in live national broadcasts. Gordon's impact on music and on people is truly enormous. Gordon's recordings include his own music and other contemporary Alaskan composers. He and the ACO twice received the Governors Award for the Arts and a commendation from the Alaska Legislature.

Gordon Wright was found dead February 14, 2007 on the porch of his cabin in Indian, Alaska. He was 72. His body was discovered after he failed to arrive at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to pick up a composer, said his former wife, Inga-Lisa Wright. The cause of death had not been immediately determined, she said. He is survived by his daughter, Karin Sturla; two sons, Charles and Daniel; five grandchildren, and brother Harry Wright. The Anchorage Daily News said Wright's body was removed from his cabin by friends and state troopers in a pine coffin that he had bought years ago and used as a storage bench.

Source: Obituary by Daniel J. Wakin in The San Diego Union-Tribune & New York Times (February 23, 2007); Goedon Wright Memorial Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (April 2011)

Recordings of Bach’s Instrumental Works




Gordon Wright


Harpsichord Concertos BWV 1060, BWV 1062, BWV 1063, BWV 1065 [w/ pianist Leonora Milà]

Links to other Sites

Gordon Wright; conductor founded Arctic Chamber Orchestra; 72 (Sign On San Diego)
Gordon Wright, Founder of Arctic Chamber Orchestra, Dies at 72 (NY Times)

Gordon Wright Memorial Website, 1934-2007

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