Robert Spano, conductor
Robert Spano is one of the brightest and most imaginative conductors of his generation. As Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, he has enriched and expanded its repertoire and elevated the ensemble to new levels of international prominence and acclaim. As Music Director of the Aspen Music Festival and School, he oversees the programming of more than 300 events and educational programs for 630 students, including Aspen’s American Academy of Conducting.
In his distinguished career, Mr. Spano has conducted the greatest orchestras of North America, including those in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Abroad, he has led the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala (Milan), Czech Philharmonic, Berlin Radio Sinfonie Orchestra, BBC Scottish and BBC Symphony Orchestras, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, New Japan Philharmonic and Oslo Philharmonic, among others.
Equally accomplished as an operatic conductor, he has appeared with the opera companies of Chicago, Houston and Cincinnati, as well as at the Santa Fe Opera, Royal Opera at Covent Garden and Welsh National Opera. In 2005 and 2009, he conducted internationally renowned casts in six cycles of Wagner’s monumental Der Ring des Nibelungen at the Seattle Opera, drawing raves from The Seattle Times: “Loud roars of approval greeted each act when conductor Robert Spano entered the orchestra pit, where he continues to work magic.”
In addition to regular performances with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Spano’s 2012-2013 engagements include appearances with the New World Symphony, Toronto Symphony and Cincinnati Symphony and at Carnegie Hall in New York City for three unique concerts that champion 20th– and 21st-century music and convey freshness in programming and collaboration. For the first Carnegie Hall concert in October, countertenor John Holiday and baritone Brett Polegato join Mr. Spano as he leads the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Isaac Stern Auditorium with a program featuring works by Copland, Bernstein and Walton. The second concert in March brings together Orquesta La Pasión and members of Schola Cantorum de Venezuela with soprano Jessica Rivera and jazz vocalist Luciana Souza as Mr. Spano conducts Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos. For his final Carnegie Hall appearance this season (also in March), Mr. Spano leads Ensemble ACJW and pianist Juho Pohjonen in a performance of Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles.
Robert Spano conducts three world premieres in Atlanta this season (his 12th season as Music Director); an ASO commission by Atlanta School of Composers member Michael Gandolfi and works by Marcus Roberts and Atlanta Symphony bassist Michael Kurth. A work by another Atlanta School of Composers member, Christopher Theofanidis, will also be featured this season, reflecting Mr. Spano’s and the Orchestra’s commitment to nurturing and championing music through multi-year partnerships defining a new generation of American composers. Mr. Spano has also programmed 13 Atlanta premieres and continues his winning traversal of the Bach choral masterworks with the monumental B Minor Mass. Appealing to his passion and skill as a pianist, Mr. Spano joins concertmaster David Coucheron and principal cellist Christopher Rex in Beethoven’s “Triple” Concerto led by principal guest conductor Donald Runnicles.
In his first season as Music Director of the Aspen Music Festival and School, Maestro Spano’s dedication to education, community engagement and multi-faceted conducting skills were on full display. “Made in America,” featured Robert Spano conducting Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with a big band and a trio of pianists, leading a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, appearing in recitals alongside violinist Robert McDuffie and baritone Nathan Gunn as well as working with the Aspen Chamber Symphony and Aspen Festival Orchestra in multiple concerts highlighted with works by Jennifer Higdon, Samuel Barber, Edgar Meyer, Beethoven, Schoenberg, Rachmaninoff and Bartók, among others. The Festival’s closing concert featured the Aspen Festival Orchestra, Colorado Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Colorado Children’s Chorale and vocal ensemble Kantorei performing Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand. A passionate educator, Mr. Spano was particularly thrilled to have constant and consistent interaction with the Aspen Music School, its students and the American Academy of Conducting at Aspen (AACA). As part of the Aspen Music Festival and School, the AACA sees Mr. Spano engage with talented, rising conductors. Of his duties at the AACA, the Aspen Times Weekly quoted Mr. Spano saying, “Central. Core. Fundamental…I feel like it’s the heart of my job. And it’s why I’ve been so happy this summer. I’d taught conducting quite a bit in my life, but less and less the last 10 years. To be able to concentrate on it in this way was irresistible.”
With an extensive discography of critically acclaimed recordings for Telarc and Deutsche Grammophon, Robert Spano has garnered six Grammy Awards with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In February 2011, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra partnered with Naxos to create the ASO Media label in its continuing commitment to document the ASO’s many commissions, premieres and popular programs. The unanimously praised premiere recording featured new works by Atlanta School of Composers members Jennifer Higdon and Michael Gandolfi conducted by Robert Spano: Higdon’s On a Wire and Gandolfi’s QED: Engaging Richard Feynman. The second recording, released in June 2011, was the Atlanta Symphony commission of Christopher Theofanidis’s Symphony paired with Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs.September 2010 saw the release of Jennifer Higdon’s The Singing Rooms, Alvin Singleton’s PraiseMaker—both world premiere recordings—and Scriabin’s Poème de l’extase. Mr. Spano is also featured on Deutsche Grammophon’s March 2010 DVD release of Golijov’s La Pasión según San Marcos. The latest recording on the ASO Media Label, released in October 2011, features pianist Garrick Ohlsson and the ASO conducted by Robert Spano performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Symphonic Dances. Grammy Award-winning albums for the Telarc label include Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony (2002 Best Classical Album and Best Choral Perfomance) and Berlioz’s Requiem (2004 Best Choral Performance), as well as Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar (2006 Best Contemporary Composition and Best Opera Recording) with Deutsche Grammophon. Other recent recordings include John Adams’s On the Transmigration of Souls, Michael Gandolfi’s The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, Osvaldo Golijov’s Oceana Tenebrae, Brahms’s Requiem and a live concert recording of Puccini’s La Bohème, the first American recording of the opera since 1956.
Since Robert Spano’s arrival at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra has reported increased single ticket and subscription sales, while the number of its donors has risen by more than 40 percent. In addition to standard repertoire, he regularly programs and performs music of the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as world premieres of ASO-commissioned works. He maintains a strong community presence by appearing in recitals and chamber music performances with ASO musicians throughout the city.
Robert Spano served as director of the prestigious Festival of Contemporary Music at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Music Center in 2003 and 2004, and from 1996 to 2004 was Music Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic—a period marked by significant artistic growth and critical acclaim. During his eight-year tenure he brought the ensemble to international attention through thematic programming and special projects, including Thomas Adès’s Powder Her Face, John Adams’s Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, world premieres by Michael Hersch, Bright Sheng, Philip Glass and Christopher Theofanidis, and more than 40 New York premieres.
A strong and passionate advocate for music education and community outreach, he has lectured on “Community” for TEDx and recently completed a three-year residency at Emory University. In its 165-year history, Emory University has honored only seven other individuals with such expansive residencies, including the Dalai Lama, President Jimmy Carter and author Salman Rushdie. He headed the Conducting Fellowship Program at the Tanglewood Music Center from 1998 to 2002, and is a professor of conducting at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. He was music director of the 2006 Ojai Festival and often conducts the Curtis Symphony Orchestra and Juilliard Orchestra. He has received honorary doctorates from Bowling Green State University, the Curtis Institute of Music, Emory University and, most recently, Oberlin. In May 2009, Mr. Spano was awarded Columbia University’s Ditson Conductor’s Award for the advancement of American music.
An accomplished pianist, Mr. Spano performs chamber music with many of his colleagues from the Atlanta Symphony, Boston Symphony and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Born in 1961 in Conneaut, Ohio, and raised in Elkhart, Indiana, he grew up in a musical family, composing and playing flute, violin and piano. He is a graduate of Oberlin, where he studied conducting with Robert Baustian, and continued his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music with the late Max Rudolf. In 2004, at the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, Mr. Spano performed under water, a work for solo piano he composed based on Debussy’s Engulfed Cathedral. The New York Times praised it as “a cohesive and often lovely solo piano work.” He has been featured on CBS’s “Late Night with David Letterman,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” A&E’s “Breakfast with the Arts” and PBS’s “City Arts.” Robert Spano was named Musical America’s 2008 “Conductor of the Year.” He makes his home in Atlanta.