Justin Knoepfel’s Plans for the GSODr. Knoepfel was named the permanent conductor last fall after more than a decade at Gustavus.
Posted on May 13th, 2024 by

As Dr. Justin Knoepfel completes his first academic year as the permanent conductor of the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra (GSO), he’s looking to make his collaboration with students even broader and deeper than he has during his initial decade on the Hill.

Knoepfel was named the GSO’s permanent conductor last fall after having assumed the role on an interim basis for the previous year. He had been conducting the College’s Philharmonic Orchestra for 10 years, so stepping into GSO was a natural fit. “I am delighted to continue the excellence and strong music-making of the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra,” Knoepfel said. “It is a privilege and absolute pleasure to connect with the students, creating moving musical experiences together each and every day. In particular, I look forward to the fruitful years ahead, lifting up not only this fine ensemble but all of the talented students and faculty that contribute to the arts at Gustavus.” 

The GSO is one of the College’s most prestigious music ensembles and an integral contributor to the Gustavus music experience. Featuring talented and dedicated students from diverse majors, the Orchestra performs a variety of symphonic repertoire and is a key contributor to many of the College’s signature events, including Christmas in Christ Chapel and the Nobel Conference.

Knoepfel first came to Gustavus in 2009. In addition to the GSO position, he is a viola instructor and currently serves as chair of the Department of Music. His career path unfolded gradually, as Knoepfel had played violin at Luther College and only took up the viola after graduating. He also worked as an accountant before obtaining a master and doctoral degree in viola performance from the University of Minnesota. From there he landed at Gustavus as an adjunct viola instructor, and he’s been in Saint Peter ever since. His extensive body of work outside Gustavus includes performances with multiple symphonies and festivals, and as a freelance musician with the Eagles and Idina Menzel, among others. He also has taught music clinics and served as a judge in classical competitions.

As a string player-turned-conductor, Knoepfel understands the demands and complexities needed from the podium, and what an orchestra’s musicians need and expect from the person wielding the baton. Now that he’s fully ensconced in the GSO as it prepares for a spring 2025 tour with the Gustavus Jazz Ensemble to Ireland and Scotland, Knoepfel has long-term plans to expand the orchestra’s reach and repertoire.

“Gustavus has a rich history of excellence in the fine arts, and the Symphony Orchestra is one of our major ensembles that connects talented students with regional, national, and global audiences,” President Rebecca M. Bergman said. “It has been exciting to watch Dr. Knoepfel engage with our GSO students to develop their talent as musicians and enhance their performance as a dynamic ensemble.” 


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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