Hugo Jan Huss, conductor and music director of the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra from 1982 to 1993, will be remembered for recruiting more talented musicians and improving the orchestra's performance.
Huss, who died Tuesday in La Crosse at age 72, tried to convert an amateur orchestra into a more professional group. He expanded the geographical pool of musicians, drawing quality musicians from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and the region.
He was one of 13 conductors since the orchestra formed in 1898. Amy Mills, who replaced Huss and is in her 11th season as the orchestra's conductor and music director, awarded him the distinction as conductor emeritus during the orchestra's 100th anniversary season.
Mills said Huss laid a strong foundation for her to continue building the orchestra's artistic quality.
"Hugo worked very hard and was significant in bringing the orchestra to a new level during his time with the symphony," Mills said.
Huss, also a violinist, became known to La Crosse area music lovers in 1977 when he won the national conducting competition held in conjunction with the Symphony School of America in La Crosse.
He was a noted conductor of the Arad Symphony in Romania and is on Romania's list of prominent citizens.
In 1968, Huss received the highest cultural arts honor from the Romanian government after conducting major orchestras in Europe. He also was music director and principal conductor of the Guadalajara Symphony in Mexico.
He fled Romania, which was ruled by a dictator, in 1968 because he said he could not conduct his life as he wanted.
"I got a passport to go to a music festival in Paris. I just didn't find my way back," he said in 1990. "All they needed was to let me out once." His wife, Mirella, left Romania legally four years earlier because her father was born in the United States.
Huss also had a master's degree in business administration and worked as data processing manager for Mathy Construction Co. in Onalaska, Wis.
Dawson Strutt, Onalaska High School's band teacher, played second trumpet for Huss. "His legacy will be that he brought in better musicians, and he had a vision and passion for the orchestra," Strutt said.
Virginia Strauss, a Luther College violin teacher and the orchestra's concertmaster, said she appreciated Huss' programming of classical music and symphonies. "He had a wonderful concept of the elegant, refined sound for classical music," Strauss said.
Steve Bina, a tuba player and supervisor of fine arts for the La Crosse School District, said Huss brought his strong European training to the orchestra and selected great classical repertoire.
"At one rehearsal, Hugo smiled at me, and said, 'Steve we have too much tuba,' and I replied, 'That's impossible,' and he laughed," Bina said. "He had a great sense of humor."
Terry Rindfleisch can be reached at (608) 791-8227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.