Obituary: Conductor Paul Vermel Dies at 99

By Francisco Salazar

Conductor Paul Vermel has died at the age of 99.

The musician who was also an orchestra builder, teacher, mentor, husband, father, and friend, passed away on Feb. 14, 2024, just five days before his 100th birthday.

Born in Paris on Feb. 19, 1924, he was raised in Paris and spent summers in Deauville until the outbreak of World War II. After the fall of Paris, the family moved to the ”free” area of Vichy, until all of France was occupied by the Germans. They then moved back to Paris.

Before WWII, he studied conducting, organ, harmony, and theory in his native Paris and after the war, Vermel left France to study at The Juilliard School and served on the Juilliard faculty in both the orchestral and opera departments.

During his 10 years in New York, Vermel was music director and conductor of the Hudson Valley Symphony, the Doctor’s Orchestral Society, and the Brooklyn Community Orchestra, and taught at Brooklyn College.

Vermel was also the Music Director of the summer opera and musical theater program at Green Mansions in the Berkshires. He eventually left New York for California where became Music Director and conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic and taught at California State University.

During his storied career, he would become director of the Music in Maine Project and the Portland Symphony Orchestra. He also led the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the National Symphony of Washington, D.C., the Rhode Island Philharmonic, the New Jersey Symphony, L’Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec s guest conductor.

He was also an influential professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and conductor of both the University Symphony and the Champaign-Urbana Symphony.

Vermel went on to be honored with the Koussevitsky Memorial Award for the outstanding conductor at the Tanglewood Festival, the American Symphony Orchestra League Recognition Award, a Ford Foundation grant for advanced study,  the ASCAP Award for adventuresome programming of contemporary music, and the Max Rudolf Award from the Conductors Guild, among many others.