According to a May 20 obituary in the Bay City Times (Michigan), conductor Leo Najar passed away on May 17 of natural causes at age 58. In a letter to the editor published in Sunday’s (5/29) Saginaw News (Michigan), Nick Oppermann, former executive director of the Saginaw Bay Symphony, reflects “on a friend and distinguished conductor, Leo Najar … Eleven years ago, when I was hired as the new executive director of the SBSO, the first congratulatory call came from Leo. … After being on the job for a while, I was setting up the rehearsal room that we used at the time out in Bridgeport on a blustery winter afternoon. The musicians were filing in, and I got to chatting with a few of them. I asked what made them drive all the way up from Ann Arbor or over from Kalamazoo or down from Midland in Michigan inclemency. To a one, there answer was simple: Leo. A veteran lady violinist added, ‘He makes us play better than we can.’ … time has taken a treasure from our community and left us with a yawning vacuum. Let us try to fill it with our memories of a charming, gifted friend and the joyous hours he created for us.” Najar was also founder and music director of the Bijou Orchestra in Bay City, and the first winner of the League of American Orchestras’ Helen Thompson Award.

Posted June 1, 2011