Since the death of Ed Forner last month, his wife, Jan Gilbert, has been hearing from his former students and colleagues in music about what made him special.
A Macalester College music professor who was also music director and a conductor of the St. Paul Civic Symphony, Forner touched the lives of thousands through his talent and tutelage. What was it, Gilbert wanted to know, that made Forner different among the conductors and musicians he taught and influenced?
So she started asking.
Forner stressed passion, precision and an economy of movement that enabled an orchestra to fully interpret the power and majesty of the music, his friends, students and colleagues told her. His passion and attention to detail not only made him an accomplished conductor, she said, but also a great teacher of conducting. They are skills not often found in the same person. “What a tremendous gift he was to the Twin Cities,” she said.
Forner died March 20 after a long illness. He was 79.
Tom Jensen, a conductor in Colorado who was a former student of Forner’s, told her that he made student conductors listen to the orchestra and be prudent with motion. “Ed was not waving his arms around,” Jensen told her. “He was not acting out the passion. He let it come through the music.”
One of Forner’s sons, Sven, said that passion for music and education also came out in his family life.
“He was an incredibly giving man. He was a very warm individual. Teaching was his life, conducting and exposing other people to conducting was a priority to him,” said Sven Forner, who learned to play piano at 6, then violin, clarinet, saxophone and guitar. But it was all at his own pace. “He opened the door to music. He never forced it.”
Edouard Forner was born April 1, 1934. He received a master of arts degree in composition and theory from Stanford University in 1956 and a diploma in conducting from the Vienna State College of Music and Dramatic Arts, graduating with the highest rating awarded by that institution.
While at Stanford, he founded and conducted the Stanford University Men’s Chorus and conducted the California Orchestral Association, a San Francisco-based training orchestra for young professionals. He later studied conducting with Nadia Boulanger of France, Hans Swarowsky of Austria, Igor Markevitch of Ukraine and Earl Murray and Pierre Monteux of the United States.
After Vienna, he served six years as chorusmaster and conductor at the Stadttheater in Rendsburg, Germany, where he conducted over 300 performances of opera, operetta and ballet. He also conducted the orchestras of Netherlands Radio and Radio Madrid and L’Orchestre National de Monte Carlo.
In 1970, he joined the faculty of Macalester College and became conductor of the St. Paul Civic Symphony. He later served as resident conductor of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and music director of Opera St. Paul. In 1996, Forner helped create a “sister orchestra” affiliation with Nagasaki, Japan, and in 1998, the St. Paul Civic Symphony went to Nagasaki for joint concerts to open a new performing arts center there.
Forner is survived by his wife, Jan; sons Sean and Sven; daughters Maya Allen and Ami Forner and two grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Macalester’s Weyerhaeuser Memorial Chapel.