Gordon Wright


For a Halloween concert, conductor Gordon Wright had himself carried into the hall in a coffin. For a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” he engaged a real Army cannon company from Fort Wainwright to sound the concluding note. 

Wright’s flair not only for music but also theater helped rejuvenate the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra after he joined the UAF music faculty in 1969. The symphony, first created in the 1950s, had initially thrived but then suffered from annual turnover among its conductors.

Wright gave the organization 20 years of steady, creative attention, putting it on firm footing before he retired in 1989. 

Wright grew up in Arlington, Virginia, and earned a bachelor’s degree in music at the College of Wooster in Ohio and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin. From 1960-1969, he owned a sheet music and book store in Madison, where he also founded what is now the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. 

In 1970, a year after arriving at UAF, Wright organized the first Arctic Chamber Orchestra tour of the state’s Bush villages. Traveling primarily by aircraft but also by snowmachine, boat and dog sled, the orchestra brought live classical music to places that had never heard such performances. The tour became an annual tradition.

Wright composed his own music and arranged that of others. He often championed lesser-known composers, including Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek, whose works Wright produced on two LPs and a CD.

Given his role as conductor and his 6-foot-6 height and bushy beard, Wright became a widely recognized public figure in Fairbanks. In addition to composing and arranging music, organizing ensembles and conducting, he was active in environmental causes.

After retirement, Wright moved to a cabin in the tiny community of Indian, on Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage. He died there in 2007.

More online about Gordon Wright:

  • A website about his life and works, managed by his family.

  • An article about his role in the Arctic Chamber Orchestra’s tours.

  • A remembrance by a member of the Arctic Chamber Orchestra.

  • The Feb. 16, 2007, front page of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner with a news story about his life and death. 

  • His obituary in The New York Times.

  • An account of his role, along with his wife Inga-Lisa, in founding the Fairbanks Youth Orchestras.