One of America’s most distinguished, versatile and dynamic conductors, Joseph Giunta is a musician of international acclaim. He is recognized as an important American conductor for his innovative programming and for his compelling interpretations of traditional and new music. His musical depth combined with his boundless energy and contagious enthusiasm makes him one of the most respected and successful orchestra leaders in the United States.
Giunta has been the Music Director of the Des Moines Symphony for thirty-one years and is currently riding the crest of the most successful era in the Orchestra’s rich history. He has transformed the Orchestra into one of the finest regional orchestras in America.
Over the course of his career, he held a similar position with the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony for fourteen seasons, and has guest conducted many of the great orchestras of the world including the Chicago Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the London Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. In the United States, he has conducted the orchestras of Indianapolis, Nashville, North Carolina, Charlotte, Florida and Vermont, among others. He has also conducted orchestras in Mexico, South America, Europe, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom.
In 2010, he conducted the Iowa debut of Beyond the Score, a partnership between the Des Moines Symphony and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
In 2007, invited to substitute for Kurt Masur, Giunta guest-conducted the Orquesta Sinfonica Brasileira in Rio de Janeiro in the famed Theatro Municipal. The two sold-out performances received multiple standing ovations. He also conducted the SODRE Orchestra in Montevideo, Uruguay to critical acclaim. One critic wrote “Giunta moves like a ballet dancer. He has a dignified and refined technique with great passion and command for the music. The orchestra sounded energized and unified under Giunta’s thoughtful and persuasive baton.”
In the fall of 2010, Giunta served as a judge at the BNDES International Piano Competition in Rio de Janiero, also conducting several concerto rounds and the Grand Finale Concert.
Highlights of Giunta’s tenure in Des Moines include a live recording of all nine Beethoven Symphonies and a recording with internationally renowned pianist Earl Wild on the Chesky Records label. The American Record Guide said about this recording that “Wild, Giunta and the Des Moines Symphony play the music to the hilt.” And the late Wild in his recently published book, A Walk on the Wild Side — A Memoir by Virtuoso Pianist Earl Wild, said “Joseph Giunta is another fine American conductor, who is … conducting well.” The Des Moines Register has praised Giunta’s performances as “stirring.”
His discography also includes world-wide recordings with the London Philharmonic Orchestra featuring the music of Khachaturian and Britten.
He continues to pursue his life-long goal of exposing as many people as possible to great classical music at all age levels. He inaugurated the Des Moines Symphony’s Yankee Doodle Pops, which is now the largest single day concert event in Iowa, attended by more than 100,000 people each July. In 2003, he also developed the Symphony Academy, housed in The Temple for Performing Arts in downtown Des Moines. The Symphony Academy currently has more than 600 students enrolled in private lessons, chamber music, and four Des Moines Symphony Youth Orchestras.
The many honors and distinctions awarded to Joseph Giunta include the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Award for adventurous programming and commitment to new American music. He has commissioned 23 works for the Des Moines Symphony by renowned composers Augusta Read Thomas, Michael Torke, Lukas Foss, Libby Larsen, Adolphis Hailstork, David Ott and many others. Recently, he and the Des Moines Symphony commissioned Symphony In Sculpture, a 30-minute work inspired by the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and written by Emmy Award-winning composer Steve Heitzeg, in recognition of the Des Moines Symphony’s 75th anniversary season. DVDs of Symphony In Sculpture and Symphony in Sculpture II, feature a multi-track, five-channel, surround sound recording of the pieces accompanied by original films created by Blur MediaWorks, plus a behind-the-scenes making-of documentary.
He has also received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Simpson College, the 1984 Helen M. Thompson Award presented by the League of American Orchestras to the outstanding young conductor in the USA, and the 2002 Iowa Arts Award for his contribution to excellence in musical performance throughout the world. In 2015, he, along with Simon Estes, became the inaugural inductees into the Mid-America Music Association Hall of Fame.
Giunta is a graduate of Northwestern University and studied conducting with Henry Mazer, John Paynter, William Smith and Bernard Rubenstein. He also worked with Georg Solti, Carlo Maria Giulini, Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy and Klaus Tennstedt and has served as stand-by conductor for many of the world’s great conductors including Sir Georg Solti, Carlo Maria Giulini, Charles Dutoit, Klaus Tennstedt, Erich Leinsdorf and Sir Neville Marriner.