Russell Stanger was born on May 8, 1924 in Arlington, Massachusetts, the son of Herbert Theophilus and Millicent Caroline Stemler Stanger. When he was eight years old, Stanger began studying strings with violinist Marguerite Estaver, in Newton Center (Massachusetts). At the age of twelve, he organized his first orchestra - of neighborhood children in Newton. After entering the New England Conservatory of Music, he continued his string studies with violinist, Harrison Keller, and violist, Georges Fourel, of the Boston Symphony. During World War II, from 1944 to 1947, he served in the United States Naval Reserve. On Nov. 21, 1970, he married the former Mildred ("Millie") Sheffield.
Maestro Stanger was a long-time friend of F. Ludwig Diehn, and a promoter of his music. Diehn died in 1995, leaving a bequest that was to benefit Old Dominion University through the Norfolk Foundation. At that time it was the largest individual gift in the University's history. Russell Stanger is an advisor to the F. Ludwig Diehn Fund and the E.K. Sloane Fund, both of which fall under the purview of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.
In addition to conducting, Stanger has composed several works, including Buffoons; A Merry Overture ; Childhood Images ; Rock Opus (for symphony orchestra and optional rock group) ; Episodes '76 ; Symphony No. 1, Op. 10 ("Kitakyushu") ; Commemorative Celebration ; and Miyazaki, Op. 12 .
Stanger attended three summers at Tanglewood, in Lenox, Massachusetts. In 1952, he received a Master of Music degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. From 1950 to 1953, he was the director of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, followed by three years at the Boston University Symphony Orchestra. In 1956, Russell Stanger was selected from 120 contestants as the winner of the Eugene Ormandy National Conductors Competition in Philadelphia. He organized the Boston Little Orchestra in 1958, and served as the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic from 1960 to 1962, under Leonard Bernstein. From 1964 to 1966, he was Associate Conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra).
Maestro Stanger has served as a guest conductor with some of the leading North American and European orchestras. These include the Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Canadian Broadcasting Company Symphony, National Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra, Bilbao (Spain) Symphony, Jalapa (Mexico) Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Bergen (Norway) Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Orchestre Symphonique de Reims, and Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire, Paris.
In 1966, Russell Stanger came to Virginia as the music director and conductor of the Norfolk Symphony (now the Virginia Symphony). He remained the director for fourteen seasons, and is currently conductor laureate. Since 1982, he has been the music director of the New York State Summer School of the Arts at Saratoga. For the last decade, he has made many conducting trips to Japan. In 1989, he was commissioned to compose a piece for the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Mukogawa Gauquin, the largest Japanese women's university. He is the artistic advisor of the Miyazaki (Japan) Symphony Orchestra, and has conducted the Kyushu (Japan) Orchestra in the performance of two of his own works.