Robert Spano is recognized as one of the brightest and most imaginative conductors of his generation. Now in his tenth season 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. In March 2011, Robert Spano was named Music Director-Designate of the Aspen Music Festival and School where he will assume the title of Music Director in 2012.
In his distinguished career, 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 three 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."
The 2010-2011 season marks not just Spano's 10th as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, but the 10th anniversary of the Atlanta School of composers as well. The school grew out of Spano's and the orchestra's commitment to nurture and champion a new generation of American composers. To celebrate this milestone, the ASO commissioned 10 fanfares from 10 composers to be premiered throughout the season. The first fanfare, composed by Christopher Theofanidis, received its world premiere at the season-opening performances. Other contributors include Atlanta School members Jennifer Higdon, Michael Gandolfi and Adam Schoenberg (an Aspen alumnus), as well as Alvin Singleton, Spano himself and prospective composers on the horizon. In addition to the 10 fanfares, Spano will lead the ASO in the world premiere of James Oliverio's Double Timpani Concerto in May 2011.
Spano made his fifth Carnegie Hall appearance with the ASO in October 2010, leading Janácek's masterwork "Glagolitic Mass," Ligeti's "Atmosphères" and Bartók's "The Miraculous Mandarin: Suite." Spano returned to Carnegie Hall in February 2011 with ASO Choral Director Norman Mackenzie to conduct the 20th anniversary of the world-renowned Carnegie Hall Choral Workshop, titled "ROBERT SPANO AND THE BERLIOZ REQUIEM: CHORAL WORKSHOP AND FESTIVAL." In partnership with the National High School Choir Festival, the workshop included rehearsals, master classes and score preparation sessions with Mackenzie and Spano, culminating in a performance of the Requiem with the Orchestra of St. Luke's and tenor Thomas Cooley.
Spano's guest engagements in 2010-2011 include appearances with the orchestras of Seattle, Philadelphia, Montreal and Indianapolis. He conducts three concerts in Aspen this summer as Music Director-Designate of the Aspen Music Festival and School. Spring 2011 marks the second year of Spano's three-year residency at Emory University, in which he spends three weeks each year leading intensive seminars, lecturing and presenting programs on science, math, philosophy, literature and musicology throughout the university's campus. 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.
With a discography of 16 critically acclaimed recordings for Telarc and Deutsche Grammophon recorded over nine years, Spano has garnered six Grammy Awards with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. 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." Spano is also featured on Deutsche Grammophon's March 2010 DVD release of Golijov's "La Pasión según San Marcos," conducting a live version of the work at the Holland Festival. Other recent recordings include John Adams' "Transmigration," Michael Gandolfi's "The Garden of Cosmic Speculation," Brahms's Requiem, a live concert recording of Puccini's "La Bohème"-the first American recording of the opera since 1956-and Golijov's "Oceana" and "Ainadamar" (Grammy winner for Best Opera Recording and Best Contemporary Classical Composition). The announcement of a new ASO Media label brings about new recording developments effective June, 2011.
Since 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. 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 the 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' "Powder Her Face," John Adams' "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. The New York Times remarked that "Robert Spano's innovative programming has turned the Brooklyn Philharmonic from a respected ensemble in an outer borough into an essential contributor to the cultural life of greater New York."
A strong and passionate advocate for music education, Spano was head of 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. In January of 2007, Spano brought the Oberlin Student Orchestra to Carnegie Hall with a critically acclaimed performance of music by Jennifer Higdon, Mozart and Bartók. He was music director of the 2006 Ojai Festival, has appeared frequently at the Aspen and Tanglewood music festivals and often conducts the Curtis Symphony Orchestra and the 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 Spano was awarded Columbia University's Ditson Conductor's Award for the advancement of American music.
An accomplished pianist, Spano performs chamber music with many of his colleagues from the Atlanta Symphony and has also collaborated with members of the Boston Symphony, the Brooklyn Philharmonic 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, 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." Spano was named Musical America's 2008 Conductor of the Year. He makes his home in Atlanta.