Robert Spano

Robert Spano

Composer • Conductor • Piano

• Born 1961


Robert Spano is one of the leading American conductors of his generation. He has led most of the major American orchestras (including the "Big 5") and has won Grammy Awards for a pair of Telarc recordings, the first in 2003 for the Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony, and the second in 2005 for the Berlioz Requiem. He has also appeared frequently on television, from arts presentations on PBS to the more popular-oriented programs, such as Late Show with David Letterman. Spano conducts a broad range of repertory that includes contemporary works (Golijov and Higdon have prominently figured in his concerts), as well as operatic performances (his Wagner Ring cycle at the Seattle Opera in 2005 drew much critical acclaim).

Spano was born in Conneaut, OH, on May 7, 1961. Raised in Elkhart, IN, he thrived in the environment of his musical family, learning piano, violin, and flute. He studied music at the Oberlin Conservatory, from where he graduated in 1983. Post-graduate studies were at the Curtis Institute, where he studied conducting with Max Rudolph.

At Bowling Green State University (where he first became acquainted with Jennifer Higdon) Spano taught conducting from 1985-1989. From 1990 to 1993 he served as assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Spano rose to prominence when he was appointed music director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra in 1996.

His ascendancy to the upper echelon of conductors came quickly, as he began to appear regularly with the most prestigious American and European orchestras and at leading operatic centers. From 1998 to 2002 he served as director of the Tanglewood Conducting Fellowship Program. In 2001 he was appointed music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and soon launched a series of recordings that drew acclaim for him, as well as for his orchestra. Beside the Grammy-winning efforts mentioned above were the 2003 recording on Albany Records of Benjamin Lees' Symphonies No. 2, No. 3, and No. 5 and the 2004 release on Telarc of Higdon's City Scape and Concerto for Orchestra.

Spano left his Brooklyn post in 2004, but remained active as a teacher (still serving on the faculty of Oberlin University in 2006), conductor, and pianist: in the latter role, Spano has regularly performed chamber works with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. His later recordings included the 2006 release of the Golijov opera Ainadamar (Fountain of Tears) on Deutsche Grammophon. In 2008, Spano was recognized as Conductor of the Year by Musical America. As of 2011, Spano had won six Grammy Awards for recordings with the Atlanta Symphony.