Gunther Herbig established himself as one of the leading conductors in East Germany, and, after he appeared in the West, as an exceptional interpreter of classic repertory and new Central European music.
Although born in Czechoslovakia, Herbig is of German background. He conducted under Abendroth in Weimar at the Franz Liszt Hochschule. He had further conducting studies with Scherchen, Karajan, and Jansons.
In 1962 he was appointed conductor of the German National Theater in Weimar, and also led the two orchestras of the College of Music there (1957 - 1962). His theatrical conducting continued at the Hans Otto Theater of Potsdam, where he was music director from 1962 to 1966. In the latter year he switched his emphasis to concert conducting when he became a conductor of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. He held that position through 1973.
Meanwhile, in 1972 he had been appointed principal conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra. He returned to the Berlin Symphony, this time as principal conductor, in 1977.
In 1983 he was able to leave East Germany. He had guest conducted in western Europe as early as 1973, but now his continuous presence attracted attention, and he became noted for incisive performances of the major Germanic classics, to which he brought strong, disciplined playing and a strong sense of continuity with the classical tradition. (On the occasions when a performance misses, it is generally in the direction of being heavy or pedantic, but these are rare lapses.)
Settling in North America, he became music director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (1983 - 1989) and then artistic advisor (1988 - 1989) and musical director (1989 - 1994) of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
He became the principal guest conductor of the Residentie Orchestra in The Hague in 1992. Since 1990 he has taught conducting at Yale University in Connecticut.