John Zirbel has been principal horn of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal since 1979. A native of Janesville, Wisconsin, he began studying the horn at age nine with local bandmaster John Iltis. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin, where he studied with John Barrows and Douglas Hill.
Before taking up his position in Montréal, Mr. Zirbel was a member of the Denver Symphonyfor two seasons. Over the years he has enjoyed serving as guest principal horn in numerous orchestras, such as those of Toronto, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati, San Francisco, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Japan. Every summer since 2000, he has been co-principal horn of the Aspen Festival Orchestra.
As a horn soloist, Mr. Zirbel was a prize winner at the 1981 Grand Concours international de Cor in Liège and has performed all the major horn concerti with the Montréal and San Francisco orchestras. In 2001, he gave the premiere of Sérénade héroïque, a horn concerto written for him by Québec composer Jacques Hétu.
Mr. Zirbel enjoys teaching and mentoring talented young horn players both at the Aspen Music Festival and at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, where he is an Associate Professor. His former students play in orchestras across Canada.