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Honoring Gustav Meier

in honor of our friend, gustav meier

GBS suffered a great loss on May 26, 2016, with the passing of our leader -- artist and friend -- Gustav Meier, who conducted GBS from 1972 to 2013.  He was 86 years old.  A consummate musician, he was beloved by the Bridgeport audience for four decades.  His winning smile, humble nature, and Olympian talent were a bastion of GBS, and we will forever be grateful for his gifts to us.

Gustav considered Bridgeport his musical home.  Though he had resided in Ann Arbor, Michigan for many years, GBS was foremost on his mind.  Just before his death, a dear friend of both Meier and GBS visited him as he endured his last illness; Gustav's first question to his friend was "How is my orchestra doing?"  We are happy to respond:  "Vivace!" -- thanks to the many years Gustav guided us.

"remembering gustav" a huge success!

 

On Sunday afternoon, November 6, 2016 GBS hosted a musicale to celebrate the life and legacy of Gustav Meier.  Maestro Maestro Eric Jacobsen, Andrew Armstrong, Allison Eldredge, Alexander Markov, and Deborah Wong, along with Markov's parents Albert and Marina Markov, performed to a full house at the Pequot Library as the kickoff to the Gustav Meier Memorial Fund, which was set up in cooperation with Maestro Meier's family to raise funds for the future vitality of GBS.  All of these renowned musicians performed free of charge, to honor of the man who gave them their professional start, soloing with GBS.

GBS is grateful to the wonderful staff of the Pequot Library for all of their assistance in making the beautiful space available.

Several members of the Meier family attended, including his son Dani, who spoke about his father's days in Bridgeport, and how much Bridgeport meant to the Maestro.  An elegant reception with heavy hors d'oeuvres and champagne followed.  "The room was filled with love all afternoon," said GBS Chairman Doris Harrington.  "It was as though Gustav was there with us, smiling."

GUSTAV MEIER MEMORIAL FUND

With the support of Maestro Meier's family, GBS has established the Gustav Meier Memorial Fund.  Donations will be used to further the growth and vitality of GBS, and ensure its continued presence and influence for years to come.  Generous donations have already sponsored a GBS concert.  The next goal is to endow GBS' Principal Trumpet Chair in honor of Gustav Meier.  For information, please call the GBS office at the number below; donation envelopes will be distributed at all concerts.

this fathers' day, for gustav . . .

Gustav's son, Dani Meier, wrote this eloquent testimonial to the man and his life's work:

It was two weeks ago: I leaned over my father’s hospice bed, I kissed his forehead and I whispered “I love you, Dad.” I heard him exhale one last time. And his breath . . . just . . . stopped.

For over a dozen years, I’ve used Father’s Day as a vehicle — through writing and photography — for messages about social justice, shining a spotlight on men who challenged domestic and sexual violence, on fathers who modeled healthy relationships, and on fathers who defied expectations, embracing their gay sons.

I’ve written too about my own joys and challenges as a father, to a daughter now 28 and to a 13-year-old son who stands on the threshold of changes that will make him a man.

This Father’s Day, I choose instead to write about my own father: Gustav Meier, known to many as “Maestro.”

My father was arguably the best-known teacher of orchestral conducting in the world, a master teacher at Tanglewood, Cabrillo, Prague, Beijing, a professor of music at Yale, Eastman, the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins’ Peabody Conservatory. He was a colleague of legends like Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa. He mentored Bobby McFerrin and the Baltimore Symphony’s Marin Alsop in whom he took pride that she was the first woman to head a major American orchestra.

For all my father’s loyalty to the integrity of “the score,” he was also an innovator, teaming up with Robert Altman for Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress.” Or cultivating the wildly popular annual Halloween concert at the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium. No one will forget one of his students conducting the overture to Die Fledermaus hanging upside down dressed as a bat. Nor will I forget more serious moments, like his memorial concert at Yale the night after students were killed at Kent State.

At 65, having successfully beaten back prostate cancer, my father retired from the U of M. Sort of. He then promptly started commuting from Ann Arbor to Baltimore to teach master conducting classes at Peabody. He did this for nearly two decades. And he finally actually retired at 84.

Others can speak — or have spoken — to countless memories of his gifts as a conductor and as a teacher. I have those memories as well, as a child sitting in darkened rehearsal halls with crayons or a comic book. He’d stop the orchestra to have them rephrase a particular passage. “Fortissimo!” he’d shout over the orchestra as the music swelled or “More staccato!” And when they replayed it, even my child’s ears could hear the difference.

But on this Father’s Day, I reflect on more domestic dimensions of this professionally larger-than-life man who raised me. The son of a Swiss factory worker, he taught me how to work with my hands. He instilled a work ethic that runs through my blood. And, ah, the value of humor, something he’d often invoke at the most uncomfortably ill-timed moments. This too runs through my blood. Including the ill-timed moments, I’m afraid. This was a man who enjoyed a Cutty Sark on the rocks nearly every afternoon. He loved my homemade quiche, a fun movies and good historical novels, high brow and low brow, Ingmar Bergman and The Rockford Files. This is the man who took me to my first action film, James Bond, of course, in “Diamonds are Forever.” And this is the man who adored my stepmother, who modeled a kind of devotion that I also learned was the way to love one’s partner.

On the first day of my father’s final chapter five weeks ago, I stood by the side of his bed, ready to help him get out the door for a surgical procedure that morning. He sat on the edge of the bed as I stood next to him, preparing to help him get dressed. Out of nowhere, he leaned towards me and gently let his head come to rest on my chest. It was singularly the sweetest and most vulnerable gesture I’d ever experienced with my father.

Something inside me gave way.

I started scratching his back through his pajamas and, though quiet, he seemed to purr like a cat. When I stopped, he made a silent gesture (always the conductor) unmistakably signaling me to continue. I got him to the hospital on time for that day’s procedure. But that led unexpectedly to another procedure the next day. And that led to a week in the hospital, a few days at home, and then another week at another hospital.

He returned home that last time with Hospice. His cancer, held in abeyance for the last few years after over a decade of remission, could no longer be stemmed.

Through the course of those final five weeks, every moment with my father — whether staying overnight in his room at the hospital, transitioning him from bed to bathroom, or assisting as he used a walker to take carefully choreographed steps — every single moment was infused with the tenderness and sweetness that he exposed when he leaned his head into my chest. It was a tenderness I’d only experienced as a father, to a newborn daughter when I was 26. And fifteen years later, to my newborn son.

I was, for better or worse, my father’s only son. And as is so often the case, he and I had our struggles.

But all the ways we’d grown close again in recent years became distilled into its purest most loving form in those final days and weeks. I’d hold his hand and stroke his hair. I’d mix his instant breakfast drink shake — the only nourishment he got in his final week —or I’d pour him a beer and give him a hug calling him “Gustali,” as his mother had when he was a child. It made him smile every time.

The day before he died, I brought him out on his deck and we basked in the late afternoon sun, the cardinals’ song, and a calming breeze. I told him what a good father he’d been. And when he shook his head doubtfully, I reassured him, yes, you have. He told me I was a good son and he drifted into a nap as darkness fell. Life felt almost normal being outside.

The next morning when he woke, I told him I was going grocery shopping. “I’ll come with you,” was his instinctive response. I promised I’d take him next time when he felt stronger. Minutes later, he again said, “I’ll come with you.” Those were his last words to me.

“I’ll come with you.”

By that evening, he had taken a turn and we sensed the end might be near. I stayed at his bedside. I played folk tunes on my guitar and nocturnes on my laptop. And at 2 AM, he quietly let go.

I’ll be thinking this Sunday, Father’s Day, about all the ways that forgiveness and grace and tenderness came together for my father and for me in his final days.

I’ll pour a Guinness and I’ll offer him a toast — imagining the eye contact he always demanded — a toast to love and to gratitude.

I wish that grace for all fathers, sons and daughters, so needed in these often troubled and tormented times. Love and gratitude. Forgiveness and hope.

And peace.

(Courtesy the Huffington Post)

 

Allison Eldredge, cello, performs Haydn Cello Concerto in C, mvt. 2, Adagio, with Gustav Meier, conductor, and the Greater Bridgeport Symphony on November 13, 2010 in the Klein Auditorium, Bridgeport, CT