Gérard Zinsstag was born in 1941 in Geneva, Switzerland. He studied flute and chamber music in Geneva, Paris, and Siena, and composition in Zurich and Hanover. From 1967 to 1975 he was flutist at the Tonhalle orchestra in Zurich, and then studied composition with Hans Ulrich Lehmann. Following Lehmann’s advice he then studied with Helmut Lachenmann, as one of Lachenmann’s first private pupils. In 1976 and 1978 Zinsstag participated at the International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany.
In 1979 he went to San Francisco, where the composer Richard Felciano invited him to discuss his works at the University of California, Berkeley. Zinsstag’s “Fori” was premiered in 1979 in Donaueschingen, consolidating his stature as a composer within the European musical establishment. In 1981 Zinsstag went to Berlin as a stipend recipient of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), where he met Gérard Grisey. Subsequently, Zinsstag went to Paris, where he participated in courses at IRCAM, and to New York City.
In 1986, together with Thomas Kessler, Zinsstag founded the Swiss festival for contemporary music, Tage für Neue Musik Zürich.