Robert Spano

Robert Spano (/ˈspæn/ SPAN-oh; born 7 May 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.[1] He is the Music Director of the Aspen Music Festival and School, beginning full-time responsibilities in the 2012 season.[2]

Spano has gained national and international prominence in recent years, appearing with major orchestras and opera companies throughout the United States and Europe.[1] He is regarded as an advocate of contemporary composers, and has earned a reputation for ambitious and adventurous orchestral programming and presentation.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

In addition to raising his profile with, for example, appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman,[9] Spano has made several prominent recordings with the ASO, which have garnered multiple Grammy Awards.[1] 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.[5][6][9][10]

Life and careerEdit

Early lifeEdit

Spano grew up in a musical family in Elkhart, Indiana.[9] 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.[8][11]

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.[12][13] After Oberlin he went on to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to train with Max Rudolf.[1]

In 1985, he left Curtis to take his first professional position, Director of Orchestral Activities, at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, where he briefly considered pursuing a degree in philosophy.[8][13] In 1989 he returned to Oberlin, now as a faculty member, leading the Opera Theater program.[12] He has maintained at least an official affiliation with Oberlin ever since, despite the physical separation enforced by his international performing career.[13]

Rise to prominenceEdit

In 1990, Spano was named as an Assistant Conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under Seiji Ozawa.[11][14] 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.[1][14]

From 1993 until 1996 he traveled the world nonstop, conducting concerts and operas – for a time not even having a home address.[3][11] 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 and again in 2009 when he led cycles of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen to general acclaim).[1][15]

In 1995, Spano's first music directorship was announced, with the Brooklyn Philharmonic.[7][11] He began his tenure in the fall of 1996, and quickly garnered acclaim.[7] Over the next few years, despite multiple financial crises,[5][10][16] 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 the standard orchestral concert experience.[3][4]

Spano made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 19 October 2018, when he conducted the United States premiere of Nico Muhly's opera Marnie. He conducted all seven performances of the opera that season, including the final performance on 10 November 2018, when it was transmitted worldwide as part of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series.[17]


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.[10] 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.[4][9][18]

In a gesture toward collaborative leadership in what is traditionally an autocratic culture, Spano was hired concurrently with Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles (then Music Director of the San Francisco Opera), and it was announced that they would "share responsibilities," including programming, with then-ASO President Allison Vulgamore acting as a "facilitator."[9][19] Both of their contracts have been renewed and subsequently extended, currently running through the 2008/09 season.[20] In March 2008, the orchestra and Spano announced the extension of his contract as Music Director through the 2013/2014 season.[21]

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,[9][19] and despite his would-be gala debut as Music Director being marred by the September 11 attacks just four days earlier,[19] most have judged Spano's tenure to have greatly bolstered the orchestra's morale, and maintained artistic standards.[19][22][23] The ASO also has reported increased ticket sales and donations during Spano's tenure.[1]

Spano, whose work was unrepresented on recordings prior to coming to Atlanta,[9] has particularly benefited from the orchestra's previously existing relationship with Telarc Records, which dates back to the ASO's years with Robert Shaw.[24] 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, Michael Gandolfi, and Adam Schoenberg, 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).[25]

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.[1] He also continues to compose his own music, though only in his time off from his performing career.[15]

Critical praise and awardsEdit

Named by Musical America as Conductor of the Year in 2008, Spano has won praise from several leading music critics, such as Justin Davidson of Newsday,[3] Pierre Ruhe of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,[6] Bernard Holland of the New York Times,[7] and Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe.[5] Spano was recognized with the Seaver/National Endowment for the Arts Conductors Award in 1994.[12][26] He has also received honorary degrees from Bowling Green State University and the Curtis Institute of Music,[1] and his recordings have won several Grammy Awards (see below). He also was awarded the Ditson Conductor's Award in 2008. [1]


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.

Music Director 2001–present
Music Director 2012-present
Music Director 1996–2004
Artistic Advisor 2004–2005
Principal Guest Conductor 2005–2007
Director: Conducting Fellowship Program 1998–2002
Director: Festival of Contemporary Music 2003–2004
Assistant Conductor 1990–1993
Professor of Conducting 1989–present
Assistant Professor of Conducting 1985–1989

Audio recordingsEdit

All recordings feature Spano conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and its Chorus lead by Norman Mackenzie (as appropriate). Additional featured soloists are noted.

Product page / Audio samples. Retrieved 2007-03-25
Awards: Grammy Awards for Best Classical Album, Best Choral Performance, and Best Engineered Album, 2003.
Product page / Audio samples. Retrieved 25 March 2007
Product page / Audio samples. Retrieved 25 March 2007
  • Higdon: City Scape; Concerto for Orchestra. Telarc CD #80620 (2004).
Product page / Audio samples. Retrieved 25 March 2007
  • Berlioz: Requiem, Op. 5 (Grande Messe des Morts). Telarc CD #80627 SACD #60627 (2004). Frank Lopardo, tenor; ASO Chorus.
Awards: Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance, 2005.
Product page / Audio samples. Retrieved 25 March 2007
Awards: Gramophone Magazine "Editor's Choice" (December 2005).
Product page / Audio samples. Retrieved 25 March 2007
Product page / Audio samples. Retrieved 25 March 2007
Awards: Grammy Awards for Best Opera Recording, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, 2006.
Product page / Audio samples. Retrieved 25 March 2007

Video recordingEdit

A performance of Nico Muhly's opera Marnie, conducted by Spano on 10 November 2018, is available as an HD streaming video at Met Opera on Demand.[27]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Biography: Robert Spano: 2006/2007 Season; Kirshbaum Demler & Associates. Retrieved 25 March 2007
  2. ^ Wakin, Daniel J. (12 March 2011). "Robert Spano Named New Aspen Music Festival Music Director". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c d 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) – 7 October 2001, p. D21. Via ProQuest: Document ID=83361614. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  4. ^ a b c Tommasini, Anthony. "Critic's Notebook: A Winning Formula for Players and Listeners"; The New York Times – 9 February 2000, p. E5. Via ProQuest: Document ID=49310007. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  5. ^ a b c d Dyer, Richard. "Spano Tries to Hang Out at Tanglewood" (Feature); The Boston Globe – 22 July 2001, p. L4. Via ProQuest: Document ID=76111773. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  6. ^ a b c Ruhe, Pierre. "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Spano Storms New York – and that's fine"; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 22 May 2003, p. D1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=339183721. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  7. ^ a b c d Tommasini, Anthony. "Classical Music: Can Brooklyn Keep Its Maestro While He's Hot?"; The New York Times – 26 October 1997, p. 2–33. Via ProQuest: Document ID=20219402. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  8. ^ a b c Brock, Wendell. "Live from Brooklyn, it's Robert Spano" (Feature Profile); The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 30 April 2000, p. L1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=53196617. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  9. ^ a b c d e f g 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 – 9 February 2000, p. B1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=49308409. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  10. ^ a b c Blumenthal, Ralph. "Spano Reduces His Role With Brooklyn Philharmonic"; The New York Times – 27 November 2002, p. E16. Via ProQuest: Document ID=246400901. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  11. ^ a b c d Ward, Charles. "Busy Spano here to direct and perform" (Concert preview/Profile); The Houston Chronicle – 30 January 1998. Via Thomson Gale: Document no.=CJ64294186. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  12. ^ a b c 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
  13. ^ a b c Robert Spano: Professor of Conducting (Oberlin Conservatory). Via Retrieved 24 March 2007
  14. ^ a b Oestreich, James R. "Shopping With: Robert Spano: Facing the Philharmonic, Armed With New CD's"; (Feature); The New York Times – 18 May 2003, p. 2–27. Via ProQuest: Document ID=337831501. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  15. ^ a b Ruhe, Pierre: "'There's Something Bottomless About It' – Robert Spano on Conducting Wagner's Ring Archived 6 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine" (Interview); The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 15 September 2005. Via Retrieved 24 March 2007
  16. ^ Kozinn, Allan. "High Notes and Red Ink"; The New York Times – 6 December 1998, p. 14-1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=36529269 . Retrieved 27 March 2007
  17. ^ Marnie, Met Opera Archive. Retrieved 20 July 2019.
  18. ^ Brock, Wendell. "Spano's selection wins press nationwide"; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 10 February 2000, p. F12. Via ProQuest: Document ID=49343506. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  19. ^ a b c d Ruhe, Pierre. "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK: Spano's first season gives ASO a boost"; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 9 June 2002, p. L5. Via ProQuest: Document ID=123902471. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  20. ^ "Conductors Spano and Runnicles Extend Contracts with Atlanta Symphony Archived 6 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine"; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 21 September 2005. Via Retrieved 24 March 2007
  21. ^ "Musical director, principal guest conductor of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra renew contracts". The Associated Press. 18 March 2008. Retrieved 19 March 2008.
  22. ^ Elliott, Susan. "The Atlanta Symphony Gets a Jolt of Energy"; The New York Times – 16 December 2001, p. 2-1. Via ProQuest: Document ID=95407128 . Retrieved 27 March 2007
  23. ^ Ruhe, Pierre. "Ever-better ASO set to conquer New York" (Concert review); The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 23 April 2004, p. C12. Via ProQuest: Document ID=622783431. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  24. ^ Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Archived 4 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine; Artist biography and discography from Telarc International. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  25. ^ News: ROBERT SPANO: CONDUCTOR, NEW MUSIC ADVOCATE, COMPOSER; Kirshbaum Demler & Associates. Retrieved 24 March 2007
  26. ^ Kozinn, Allan. "MUSIC REVIEW; Better Late Than Later, a Philharmonic Debut". The New York Times. 24 May 2003. Retrieved 23 March 2007
  27. ^ "Marnie (10 November 2018") at Met Opera on Demand. Retrieved 20 July 1019.
  • Davidson, Justin. "MEASURE FOR MEASURE: Exploring the mysteries of conducting". The New Yorker – 21 August 2006, pp. 60–69. (Conversations with Spano frame an essay on the nature of conducting.)

External linksEdit


Preceded by
Dennis Russell Davies
Music Director, Brooklyn Philharmonic
Succeeded by
Michael Christie
Preceded by
Yoel Levi
Music Director, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
Succeeded by