Delta David Gier has been called a dynamic voice on the American music scene, recognized widely for his penetrating interpretations of the standard repertoire and his passionate commitment to new music. In summer 2000 he conducted the New York Philharmonic in what were described as “splendid performances.” He came to national attention in 1997 while conducting a tour of Carmen for San Francisco Opera’s Western Opera Theater. For the past ten seasons Mr. Gier has been an assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic, and has served in that role for the Metropolitan Opera as well. He has performed with many of the world's finest soloists, including Midori, Lang Lang and Sarah Chang.
Since the 2004-05 season, Mr. Gier has held the post of Music Director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra (www.sdsymphony.org). During his first two seasons the orchestra has enjoyed great success with its series of concerts featuring works of Pulitzer Prize-winning composers.
As a Fulbright Scholar (1988–90) Gier led critically acclaimed performances with many orchestras of Eastern Europe. Gier earned a Master of Music degree in conducting from The University of Michigan under Gustav Meier. As a student at Tanglewood and Aspen he studied also with Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Masur, Erich Leinsdorf, and Seiji Ozawa, and was later invited by Riccardo Muti to spend a year as an apprentice at the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Mr. Gier has also been in demand as a teacher and conductor in many highly regarded music schools, serving as visiting professor at the Yale School of Music, the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, the San Francisco Conservatory and SUNY Stony Brook. In addition, he serves as Assistant Artistic Director of Soli Deo Gloria (www.sdgmusic.org).
LeAnne: You’re Music Director of the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra. Tell me about next season.
David: One of the joys of being Music Director is crafting an entire season’s repertoire. The SDSO is growing in every aspect. We have hired four new full-time musicians and another string quartet (we already have one string quartet and one woodwind quintet full-time), which is a big step for us. As we grow, we are taking on a more difficult repertoire. Our chorus is growing as well. We closed out last season with Mahler’s 2nd Symphony and we’ll be doing Brahms’ Requiem next season, both with the chorus. Next season Midori the violinist will be coming. We are premiering an SDG commission—a piano concerto composed by Jacob Bancks (www.sdgmusic.org/CurrentProjects/Index.html). In addition to our regular season, we are hosting a series of composer readings, expanding on a program that the Minnesota Orchestra already has in place.
We will also continue to develop our work with Native American musicians. There are nine reservations in South Dakota so, from my perspective, it doesn’t make sense for us not to be making music with them. Ultimately, we would like to do a tour side-by-side with Native musicians. Each group will play for each other on the first half of the program while having a public discussion about what music means in our different cultures, then on the second half we will commission new works for us to play together. The purpose is to find a means for cultural understanding, to enable cross-cultural dialogue.
LM: How has your faith affected or impacted your passion for music?
DG: That question actually prompted a bit of a crisis for me. I wondered, how does a committed Christian give his life energy over to the performance of this repertoire? For me, it came down to the principle of common grace. Jesus said that God causes the sun to rise on the righteous and the unrighteous and the rain to fall on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). The gifts of God are given liberally to all mankind, and we recognize them in places and from people that may be unexpected. It’s easy to see it in Bach, who wrote all of his music to the glory of God; it’s more difficult with Wagner. (Of course Wagner was a genius, his music incredible.) It has taken a lot of soul-searching for me, but it keeps me honest in terms of faith. My response to great music and great performers is a welling up of thankfulness to God. And when I perform, I realize that I am participating in bringing life to the gift God gave this composer. All of us are exercising God-given gifts, which makes me thankful and prayerful. It’s a life-long journey, finding a way to worship God through the re-creation of this music.
Soon I’ll be going to the Masterworks Festival, a dynamic Christian youth camp in Indiana. The curriculum is written specifically for artists who are Christians. It started with orchestra and now includes dance, opera, theater, lots of different art forms. It’ll be my tenth year as a guest conductor. Faculty—players from major orchestras around the country—and students sit next to each other in the orchestra. It fosters mentorship, both professionally and spiritually. At night, we break up into small group Bible study. I’m amazed at the interaction, and the worship—if you can imagine—is fantastic. It’s intended to equip the next generation of artists to be salt and light in what is sometimes a very dark world.
I enjoy interaction with people of different beliefs. Sharing my faith is simply that. It’s who I am and it’s the motivation behind why I make music. When rehearsing works from the sacred repertoire, bringing the text alive is very exciting to me. Other times, it’s more complicated. For example, Mahler’s 2nd Symphony that we just did is subtitled Resurrection. On the surface, it appears to have a Christian text, but when you look deeper, it’s really about universalism. We can have a discussion about where he was spiritually at the time he composed this piece, what he was trying to say. Of course it was just his 2nd Symphony, still early in his career and his journey.
On Thursday David will discuss one highlight of his career as well as his advice for Christians in the arts.