Ghenady Meirson, 63, of Philadelphia, a concert pianist, vocal coach, and specialist in Russian repertoire, died Saturday, May 8, of gastroesophageal cancer at Penn Medicine at Rittenhouse hospice care.
Mr. Meirson, a refugee from the former Soviet Union, was a beloved voice teacher for generations of students at the Academy of Vocal Arts and his alma mater, the Curtis Institute of Music, since the 1980s. He also helped organizations such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Opera Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Singers, and the Mendelssohn Club.
“Ghena brought joy to every room he entered, and AVA will never be the same without him,” said Kevin McDowell, AVA’s president and artistic director. “He was a masterful artist and inspired so many young artists on their journey while introducing them to the vast Russian repertoire of both songs and operas.”
Mr. Meirson was an entrepreneur, as well, initiating ambitious, successful projects.
The Russian Opera Workshop, which he founded in 2011, is a respected summer program that attracts opera singers and professionals from across the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. Its repertoire includes Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Iolanta, and The Queen of Spades.
About 25 years ago, he began PrivateLessons.com, a membership-based network for independent music teachers. Now a leader in its class, the network helps instructors connect with private music students throughout the United States and Canada.
Mr. Meirson was born in Odessa, Ukraine, when it was part of the Soviet Union. He was one of three sons of Leonid Meirson and Elizaveta Gerbinsky Meirson.
When Mr. Meirson was 13, the family moved to Israel. About two years later, however, his mother died of pancreatic cancer. Afterward, Mr. Meirson’s father sent him to live with relatives in Italy in the hope of starting the immigration process to the United States. In Italy, he graduated from the Santa Cecilia Conservatory in Rome and later came to the United States as a refugee.
He later auditioned as a pianist for Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music and was accepted.
At Curtis, Mr. Meirson studied piano with stellar talents like Seymour Lipkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski and accompanying with Vladimir Sokoloff.
Curtis proved momentous for Mr. Meirson personally, as well. On his first day there, he met a young opera student, Laura Davis. They became friends and in time fell in love, wed, and had two children.
His career working with singers started while working with her during their time as Curtis students, said their daughter, Rachel Meirson.
“He realized he really enjoyed coaching. He enjoyed working with singers and he realized he had something special,” she said. Since his first language was Russian, he could coach students to sing in the language.
“Working with my mother was the impetus for a career as a concert pianist, a vocal coach, and a Russian repertoire specialist,” his daughter said.
Mr. Meirson also saved Laura Meirson’s life, their daughter said. In 1981, while both were still students, she suffered a massive brain hemorrhage one night. Mr. Meirson got help and took off from his studies for several months to be by her side while she underwent surgeries and treatment. Her singing was lost due to vocal cord damage, but she was able to graduate from Curtis with a bachelor’s degree in music. Mr. Meirson graduated with bachelor’s degrees in piano performance and accompaniment.
“She absolutely credits him with saving her life,” Rachel Meirson said.
Family was foremost to Mr. Meirson, she said.
“My father did absolutely everything for his family. His family was his prime purpose,” she said. “He was proud of his work, but he was most proud of being a husband and a father.”
People were important to Mr. Meirson, his daughter said, and being able to make his students each feel special was one of his gifts.
“He made everyone know how important they were,” she said. “Every person he taught, they are his legacy, and it will far outlive all of us because of these seeds that he planted. He was an amazing man.”
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Meirson is survived by son Leonard; a brother; and other relatives. His parents, grandparents, and another brother died before him.
A memorial concert will be held in Mr. Meirson’s honor at a later date.
Donations in Mr. Meirson’s memory may be made to the Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19103, or the Curtis Institute of Music, 1726 Locust St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19103.