In addition to raising his profile with, for example, appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman, 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.
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. 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.
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).
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, 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 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." Both of their contracts have been renewed and subsequently extended, currently running through the 2008-09 season. In March 2008, the orchestra and Spano announced the extension of his contract as Music Director through the 2013-2014 season.
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. 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. 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).
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.
For sources concerning the affiliations listed here, please see Life and career above.
Former Middle Smithfield Township Supervisor Robert Spano Enters Guilty Plea to Charge of Making False Statements in Connection with Health Care Matter
Mar 01, 2013; SCRANTON, Pa., Feb. 27 -- The U.S. Department of Justice's U.S. Attorney's office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued...
Former Middle Smithfield Township Supervisor Robert Spano Enters Guilty Plea to Charge of Making False Statements in Connection with a Health Care Matter
Feb 27, 2013; HARRISBURG, PA -- The following information was released by the United States Attorney's Office for the Middle District of...
A Case of Have Baton Will Travel for Spano; Conductor Robert Spano, an American in Cardiff, Talks to Terry Grimley about His Symphony Hall Debut
Mar 06, 2000; Robert Spano tonight becomes the latest conductor to make his Symphony Hall debut thanks to Welsh National Opera's temporary...