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Starobin started playing the guitar at the age of seven. He studied with Albert Valdes Blaine until age 15, whereupon he commenced lessons with the noted guitar pedagogue, Aaron Shearer. In 1973 he graduated from the Peabody Conservatory (Baltimore, Maryland), while directing Peabody's guitar chamber music program. During this period he coached and performed with pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher, becoming a member of Fleisher's chamber ensemble: The Theater Chamber Players.
Starobin has toured the U.S. as a guitar recitalist, chamber player and orchestral soloist performing at festivals including Marlboro, Aspen, Santa Fe Chamber, and Tanglewood, and with orchestras and ensembles including the New York Philharmonic, Houston Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, and the Emerson and Guarneri String Quartets as well as the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. He worked at Brooklyn College, Bennington College, the North Carolina School of the Arts, the State University of New York at Purchase, and the Manhattan School of Music. He is currently (as of 2013), employed at the Manhattan School of Music. In 2010, he started a guitar program at Curtis Institute.
Starobin is the only guitarist to date (as of 2013) to receive Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Career Grant, in 1988. He was honored by Peabody Conservatory with its "Distinguished Alumni Award" (1999); and was given, with his wife, Becky Starobin, in 2007, ASCAP's Deems Taylor Award for their work with Bridge Records.
In 2011, Starobin was inducted into the Guitar Foundation of America's Hall of Fame, earning the GFA's "Artistic Achievement Award". In 1990 he made the first recording of the newly discovered "10 Etudes" by Giulio Regondi (1822–1872), a work now regarded as a landmark in romantic-period guitar repertoire. In 2005 he performed works of Sor and Giuliani in London on a 1923 Herman Hauser parlor guitar for a DVD released by Mel Bay, Inc. (St. Louis, Missouri).[clarification needed]
In the 1980s, he began performing and recording 19th century music on period instruments, notably by Panormo, La Cote, and Stauffer. At the same time, he was performing modern repertoire on traditional Spanish style instruments, including guitars by Herman Hauser, Daniel Friedrich and Thomas Humphrey. In 1981, David and Becky Starobin formed the record label Bridge Records, Inc., which has so far released more than 410 CDs and DVDs (October, 2013). The label has been nominated for 26 Grammy Awards and has received three to date. Starobin himself was nominated for two Grammy Awards as performer.
In 1995, Bridge Records signed an agreement with the Library of Congress to co-produce the CD series: "Great Performances from the Library of Congress", featuring previously un-issued concert performances recorded in the LOC's Coolidge Auditorium (1937–present). Artists appearing on the first 25 volumes of the series include Nathan Milstein, George Szell, The Budapest String Quartet, Leontyne Price, Samuel Barber, Cecil Taylor, Leopold Stokowski, Jan DeGaetani, Aaron Copland, The Golden Gate Quartet, Josh White, John Barrows, Berl Senofsky, Gary Graffman, Dorothy Maynor, Artur Balsam, Henryk Szeryng, Buddy Collette, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, Marcel Grandjany, Gustave Langenus, and Zino Francescatti. Starobin has given premieres of numerous contemporary works.
William Bland — "Between Moments I" (1969); "Home, After Years Away" (1970) for guitar and percussion; "The Point Stops" (1971) for 9 guitars and two mandolins; "Four Songs on poems of Laurence d'A.M. Glass" (1973) soprano and guitar; "An Impression by Arp" (1974) for guitar and 5 instruments; "An Impression by Crumb" (1975) for guitar and chamber ensemble; "Song for David" (1974); "Song on a text by Rick Meyers" (1976) baritone and guitar; A Fantasy-Homage to Tomas Luis de Victoria (1977); "Guitar Concerto" (1976)for guitar and orchestra; "Dance Book" (1997); "Variations on a Danish Folk Song" (2010) for guitar and piano;
Barbara Kolb — "Looking for Claudio" (1975) for guitar and pre-recorded tape; "Songs Before an Adieu" (1976–78) for voice, flute and guitar; "Three Lullabies (1980); Umbrian Colors (1986) for violin and guitar; "Molto Allegra" (1988)
Meyer Kupferman "The Invisible Timepiece" (1974) for guitar and pre-recorded tape; "Echoes from Barcelona" (1975); "Premeditation" (1976) for clarinet and guitar; "Icarus" (1976) for guitar, viola and cello; "Skywriters" (1976) for oboe, guitar and contrabass; "Fantasy Duo" for guitar and harp (1978) "The Lament von Orfeo" (1979) soprano and guitar; "Poetics" (1981) for guitar and vibraphone; "Phantom Rhapsody" (Concerto for guitar and orchestra) (1991); Three Dances (2002);
Paul Lansky -- "Semi-Suite" (1997); "Songs of Parting" (2006), for baritone, guitar, percussion; "Six Preludes" (2007), "Guitar Concerto: With the Grain" (2009); "Partita" (2010) for guitar and percussion
Tod Machover -- "Four Songs" (1973); "Guitar Concerto" (1978); "Deplacements" (1979) for guitar and computer-generated tape; "Bug-Mudra" (1989–90) for 2 guitars, percussion and live computer electronics;
Ronald Roxbury - "Quasimodo at Wit's End" (1968/9) for flute, guitar and bass; "Le Sofa de Solfege" (1974) for soprano and guitar; "Four Driscoll Songs" for baritone, guitar and water instruments; "Joe" (1975); "Lullaby for R.J.S." (1980); "There is No Void..." (1985); "Two Last Songs" (1986) for baritone, flute and guitar
Poul Ruders — Etude and Ricercare (1994), Chaconne (1997), Pages 1–10 (2008); "Pages" 11-13" (2010),"Guitar Concerto No. 1 "Psalmodies"" for guitar and nine instruments (1986), "Solo Suite from Psalmodies" (1987); "Guitar Concerto No. 2 "Paganini Variations"" for guitar and orchestra (2000); Solo version of "Paganini Variations" (2002); New Rochelle Suite (2005) for guitar and percussion; Schrödinger's Cat (12 Canons for Violin and Guitar) (2012); Occam's Razor (2013) for oboe and guitar
Robert Saxton — Night Dance (1987); "Miniature Dance for a Marionette Rabbi" (1999)
David Starobin - "The Rapidity of Sleep" (1972); "Sensations musicales" (1973); "Trio" for flute, guitar/mandolin, piano (1974); "Three Places in New Rochelle" (2002) guitar and percussion; "Variations on a Theme by Carl Nielsen" (2010); Berceuse bas de gamme (2010) for cheap electric guitar.
Michael Starobin "Short Piece" (1976); "V" (1979) for 9 guitars; "Chase" (1987) for guitar and electronics; "The Snoid Trucks Up Broadway" (1997); "Joshua Variations" (1992); "Four Stevens" (1992) for baritone and guitar; "Wedding Song" (2005) for voice and guitar; "Anniversary Song" for voice and guitar (2007)