Robert Spano

Robert Spano

Robert Spano (born May 7, 1961, Conneaut, Ohio) is an American conductor and pianist. Since 2001 he has been Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO), and he served as Music Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic from 1996 to 2004. [ Biography: ROBERT SPANO: 2006-2007 Season] ; Kirshbaum Demler & Associates. Retrieved 2007-03-25] Spano has gained national and international prominence in recent years, appearing with major orchestras and opera companies throughout the United States and Europe. He is regarded as an advocate of contemporary composers, and has earned a reputation for ambitious and adventurous orchestral programming and presentation.Davidson, Justin. "CLASSICAL MUSIC: Looking for Magic: Mixing visuals and language into a performance is just part of conductor Robert Spano's pursuit of orchestral risk" (Fanfare); "Newsday" (Long Island, NY) - 2001-10-07, p. D21. Via ProQuest: Document ID=83361614. Retrieved 2007-03-23] Tommasini, Anthony. "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: A Winning Formula for Players and Listeners"; "The New York Times" - 2000-02-09, p. E5. Via ProQuest: Document ID=49310007. Retrieved 2007-03-23] Dyer, Richard. "Spano Tries to Hang Out at Tanglewood" (Feature); "The Boston Globe" - 2001-07-22, p. L4. Via ProQuest: Document ID=76111773. Retrieved 2007-03-23] Ruhe, Pierre. "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Spano Storms New York -- and that's fine"; "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" - 2003-05-22, p. D1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=339183721. Retrieved 2007-03-23] Tommasini, Anthony. "Classical Music: Can Brooklyn Keep Its Maestro While He's Hot?"; "The New York Times" - 1997-10-26, p. 2-33. Via ProQuest: Document ID=20219402. Retrieved 2007-03-23] Brock, Wendell. "Live from Brooklyn, it's Robert Spano" (Feature Profile); "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" - 2000-04-30, p. L1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=53196617. Retrieved 2007-03-23]

In addition to raising his profile with, for example, appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman,Brock, Wendell. "New era for the ASO: Appointment of magnetic, media savvy conductor Robert Spano as director praised; Donald Runnicles to share podium"; "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" - 2000-02-09, p. B1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=49308409. Retrieved 2007-03-23] Spano has made several prominent recordings with the ASO, which have garnered multiple Grammy Awards. Spano has also won the favor of many major music critics, and he is frequently mentioned as a candidate to lead any of the most prominent orchestras in the USA.Blumenthal, Ralph. "Spano Reduces His Role With Brooklyn Philharmonic"; "The New York Times" - 2002-11-27, p. E16. Via ProQuest: Document ID=246400901. Retrieved 2007-03-23]

Life and career

Early life

Spano grew up in a musical family in Elkhart, Indiana.Brock, Wendell. "New era for the ASO: Appointment of magnetic, media savvy conductor Robert Spano as director praised; Donald Runnicles to share podium"; "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" - 2000-02-09, p. B1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=49308409. Retrieved 2007-03-23] His father, Tony Spano, was a flute-builder and instrument-repairman as well as a clarinetist. Spano began making music early, studying piano, flute and violin. By the age of 14, he conducted a composition of his own with the local orchestra.Ward, Charles. "Busy Spano here to direct and perform" (Concert preview/Profile); "The Houston Chronicle" - 1998-01-30. Via Thomson Gale: Document no.=CJ64294186. Retrieved 2007-03-23]

After graduating from Elkhart Central High School, he studied at the Oberlin Conservatory, where he earned a degree in piano performance, while also pursuing the violin and composition and studying conducting with Robert Baustian.Slonimsky, Nicolas, rev. Laura Kuhn. (2001): "Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians -- Centennial Edition", Vol. 5, p. 3415. New York: G. Schirmer. ISBN 0-02-865525-7] [ Robert Spano: Professor of Conducting] (Oberlin Conservatory). Via Retrieved 2007-03-24] After Oberlin he went on to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to train with Max Rudolf.

In 1985, he left Curtis to take his first professional position, at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, where he briefly considered pursuing a degree in philosophy. In 1989 he returned to Oberlin, now as a faculty member, leading the Opera Theater program. He has maintained at least an official affiliation with Oberlin ever since, despite the physical separation enforced by his international performing career.

Rise to prominence

In 1990, Spano was named as an Assistant Conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under Seiji Ozawa.Oestreich, James R. "Shopping With: Robert Spano: Facing the Philharmonic, Armed With New CD's"; (Feature); "The New York Times" - 2003-05-18, p. 2-27. Via ProQuest: Document ID=337831501. Retrieved 2007-03-23] Spano's profile rose steadily while in Boston. Since he left the post in 1993, he has been a regular guest conductor with the Boston Symphony and a teacher at the Tanglewood Music Center in the summertime. At Tanglewood, he headed the conductor training program from 1998 to 2002, and directed the Festival of Contemporary Music in 2003 and 2004.

From 1993 until 1996 he traveled the world nonstop, conducting concerts and operas -- for a time not even having a home address. Eventually his travels would team him with orchestras in Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, and other cities throughout North America, and overseas from Amsterdam to Zurich. He has conducted operas at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, the Welsh National Opera, and the opera houses of Chicago, Houston, Santa Fe, and Seattle (the latter most notably in 2005 when he led three cycles of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" to general acclaim).Ruhe, Pierre: " [ 'There's Something Bottomless About It' - Robert Spano on Conducting Wagner's Ring] " (Interview); "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" - 2005-09-15. Via Retrieved 2007-03-24]

In 1995, Spano's first music directorship was announced, with the Brooklyn Philharmonic. He began his tenure in the fall of 1996, and quickly garnered acclaim. Over the next few years, despite multiple financial crises,Kozinn, Allan. "High Notes and Red Ink"; "The New York Times" - 1998-12-06, p. 14-1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=36529269 . Retrieved 2007-03-27] Spano and the orchestra gained a fervent following in the New York musical community and press. Working with executive director Joseph Horowitz, Spano developed innovative programs organized around intellectual, dramatic, or historical themes, and often with jarring stylistic juxtapositions featuring unfamiliar works alongside standard repertoire. He also explored the use of visual elements in his programs to augment (or fundamentally alter) the standard orchestral concert experience.


In 2002, Spano announced his intention to step down from the Brooklyn post at the end of the 2003-04 season, remaining as an advisor, and then principal guest conductor, until 2007. By then, Spano had already assumed his new position, as Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. When his appointment was first announced in February 2000, it was widely regarded, in Atlanta and nationally, as a coup for the orchestra.Brock, Wendell. "Spano's selection wins press nationwide"; "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" - 2000-02-10, p. F12. Via ProQuest: Document ID=49343506. Retrieved 2007-03-23]

In a gesture toward collaborative leadership in what is traditionally an autocratic culture, Spano was hired concurrently with Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles (Music Director of the San Francisco Opera), and it was announced that they would "share responsibilities," including programming, with ASO President Alison Vulgamore acting as a "facilitator."Ruhe, Pierre. "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Spano's first season gives ASO a boost"; "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" - 2002-06-09, p. L5. Via ProQuest: Document ID=123902471. Retrieved 2007-03-23] Both of their contracts have been renewed and subsequently extended, currently running through the 2008-09 season." [ Conductors Spano and Runnicles Extend Contracts with Atlanta Symphony] "; "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" - 2005-09-21. Via Retrieved 2007-03-24] In March 2008, the orchestra and Spano announced the extension of his contract as Music Director through the 2013-2014 season. [cite news | title=Musical director, principal guest conductor of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra renew contracts
url= | work=The Associated Press | date=18 March 2008 | accessdate=2008-03-19

Spano, however, remains the face of the organization, and his profile has continued to rise. After some troubled years for the orchestra in the 1990s, and despite his would-be gala debut as Music Director being marred by the September 11, 2001 attacks just four days earlier, most have judged Spano's tenure to have greatly bolstered the orchestra's morale, and maintained artistic standards.Elliott, Susan. "The Atlanta Symphony Gets a Jolt of Energy"; "The New York Times" - 2001-12-16, p. 2-1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=95407128 . Retrieved 2007-03-27] Ruhe, Pierre. "Ever-better ASO set to conquer New York" (Concert review); "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" - 2004-04-23, p. C12. Via ProQuest: Document ID=622783431. Retrieved 2007-03-23] The ASO also has reported increased ticket sales and donations during Spano's tenure.

Spano, whose work was unrepresented on recordings prior to coming to Atlanta, has particularly benefited from the orchestra's previously existing relationship with Telarc Records, which dates back to the ASO's years with Robert Shaw. [ Atlanta Symphony Orchestra] ; Artist biography and discography from Telarc International. Retrieved 2007-03-23] Spano and the ASO have released several CDs on the Telarc label, ranging from new works to standard repertoire, which have been well-received and won several awards (see below). More recently they have also recorded for Deutsche Grammophon.

One interesting project Spano has undertaken in Atlanta involves forging long-term relationships with several living composers, incorporating commissions, multiple performances, and recordings. This "fluid list" includes the composers Osvaldo Golijov, Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Theofanidis, and Michael Gandolfi, and has been dubbed by Spano and the ASO the "Atlanta School" (the name refers to the orchestra's advocacy itself -- only Higdon comes from Atlanta, and none of the composers of the "School" are based there). [ News: ROBERT SPANO: CONDUCTOR, NEW MUSIC ADVOCATE, COMPOSER] ; Kirshbaum Demler & Associates. Retrieved 2007-03-24]

In addition to his conducting career, Spano remains active as a pianist, performing frequently as a chamber musician -- often with his colleagues from Atlanta, Brooklyn, Boston and other orchestras. He also continues to compose his own music, though only in his time off from his performing career.

Critical praise and awards

Spano has won praise from several leading music critics, such as Justin Davidson of "Newsday", Pierre Ruhe of the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution", Bernard Holland of the "New York Times", and Richard Dyer of the "Boston Globe".Spano was recognized with the Seaver/National Endowment for the Arts Conductors Award in 1994. Kozinn, Allan. [ "MUSIC REVIEW; Better Late Than Later, a Philharmonic Debut"] . "The New York Times". May 24, 2003. Retrieved 2007-03-23] He has also received honorary degrees from Bowling Green State University and the Curtis Institute of Music, and his recordings have won several Grammy Awards (see below).


This is a summary list of organizations with which Spano has had a staff-affiliation. Guest conducting appearances, visiting faculty affiliations, etc., do not appear. For a more exhaustive list of these please see his [ Official Bio] (described in External links below).

For sources concerning the affiliations listed here, please see Life and career above.

* Atlanta Symphony Orchestra::Music Director 2001 - present
* Brooklyn Philharmonic::Music Director 1996 - 2004::Artistic Advisor 2004 - 2005::Principal Guest Conductor 2005 - 2007
* Tanglewood Music Center::Director: Conducting Fellowship Program 1998 - 2002::Director: Festival of Contemporary Music 2003 - 2004
* Boston Symphony Orchestra::Assistant Conductor 1990 - 1993
* Oberlin Conservatory of Music::Professor of Conducting 1989 - present
* Bowling Green State University::Assistant Professor of Conducting 1985 - 1989


All recordings feature Spano conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and ASO Chorus (as appropriate). Additional featured soloists are noted.
* Rimsky-Korsakov: "Scheherazade, Op. 35; Russian Easter Overture" Telarc CD #80568 (2001). Cecylia Arzewski, solo violin.:: [ Product page / Audio samples] (Accessed 2007-03-25)
*Vaughan Williams: "A Sea Symphony (Symphony #1)". Telarc CD #80588 (2002). Christine Goerke, soprano; Brett Polegato, baritone. :"Awards:" Grammy Awards for Best Classical Album, Best Choral Performance, and Best Engineered Album, 2003.:: [ Product page / Audio samples] (Accessed 2007-03-25)
* Theofanidis: "Rainbow Body"; Barber: "Symphony No.1, Op. 9"; Copland: "Suite from Appalachian Spring"; Higdon: "Blue Cathedral". Telarc CD #80596 (2003).:: [ Product page / Audio samples] (Accessed 2007-03-25)
* Higdon: "City Scape; Concerto for Orchestra". Telarc CD #80620 (2004).:: [ Product page / Audio samples] (Accessed 2007-03-25)
* Berlioz: "Requiem, Op. 5 (Grande Messe des Morts)". Telarc CD #80627 SACD #60627 (2004). Frank Lopardo, tenor.:"Awards:" Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, 2005.:: [ Product page / Audio samples] (Accessed 2007-03-25)
* Del Tredici: "Paul Revere's Ride"; Theofanidis: "The Here and Now"; Bernstein: "Lamentation" from "Symphony No. 1 (Jeremiah)" . Telarc CD #80638 (2005). Hila Plitmann, soprano; Richard Clement, tenor; Brett Polegato, baritone; Nancy Maultsby, mezzo-soprano. :"Awards:" "Gramophone Magazine" "Editor's Choice" (December 2005).:: [ Product page / Audio samples] (Accessed 2007-03-25)
* Sibelius: "Kullervo, Op. 7". Telarc CD #80665 (2006).:: [ Product page / Audio samples] (Accessed 2007-03-25)
*Golijov: "Ainadamar (Fountain Of Tears)" Deutsche Grammophon CD #477 616-5 (2006). Dawn Upshaw, soprano; Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano. :"Awards:" Grammy Awards for Best Opera Recording, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, 2006.:: [ Product page / Audio samples] (Accessed 2007-03-25)
*Tallis: "Why Fum'th in Fight"; Vaughan Williams: "Symphony No. 5"/"Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis"/"Serenade to Music" Teldarc CD# 80676 (2007) Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano; Thomas Studebaker, tenor; Nmon Ford, baritone, ASO Chamber Chorus


* Davidson, Justin. "MEASURE FOR MEASURE: Exploring the mysteries of conducting". "The New Yorker" - 2006-08-21, pp. 60-69. (Conversations with Spano frame an essay on the nature of conducting.)

External links

* [ Robert Spano - Artist Homepage] from Kirshbaum Demler & Associates. Official bio; discography; news, etc. Accessed 2007-03-24
* [ The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra] homepage. Accessed 2007-03-24
* [ 2005 Print Interview] with Pierre Ruhe of the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution". Spano discusses conducting Wagner's "Ring Cycle". (also cited above) Accessed 2007-03-24
* [ 1998 Radio Interview] with Brian Bell of WGBH in Boston. Spano discusses Mendelssohn's "Italian Symphony". Accessed 2007-03-24
* [ Artist page] at Telarc International. Older bio; list of Telarc cd's; audio samples. Accessed 2007-03-24
* [ Index of Articles] relating to Spano from "The New York Times". (Paid subscription required for some articles). Accessed 2007-03-24

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