David Robertson (conductor)

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For other people named David Robertson, see David Robertson (disambiguation).

David Eric Robertson (born July 19, 1958) is an American conductor. He is currently music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.


Early life[edit]

Robertson was born and raised in Malibu, California, and grew up in a music-loving family. His father was a research scientist at Hughes Laboratory and his mother studied literature, but later had a career as a caterer.[1] In grade school, he played French horn and violin, and first conducted at age 12.[2] He later studied horn, composition, and conducting as a college student at the Royal Academy of Music in London.


After his college years, Robertson began to receive conducting offers in Europe and performed often in both symphonic and operatic repertoire. His early career lectured under the rubric of the U.S. Information Agency in the Middle East and around the world on the subject of music. In 1985, Robertson was appointed resident conductor of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.

From 1992 to 2000, Robertson was music director of the Paris-based Ensemble Intercontemporain (EIC), the first American to hold the post. He broadened the EIC's repertoire to include works by composers such as John Adams. In 2000, Robertson was named the Music Director of the Orchestre National de Lyon (ONL) and artistic director of Lyon's Auditorium. He was the first individual to serve simultaneously in both capacities and the first American to be appointed to either position. He and the ONL toured the United States in 2003, with concerts in New York City, Seattle, Berkeley, and Los Angeles.[3][4] He concluded his tenure in Lyon in 2004.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra[edit]

David Robertson's relationship with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO) began in January 1999 when he made his first conducting appearance with the orchestra.[5] Robertson's second appearance with the SLSO occurred in February 2002 at Carnegie Hall after the SLSO's then-music director Hans Vonk withdrew a few days before the concert due to health problems. Robertson agreed to substitute, and he and the orchestra had only one rehearsal before the concert, which received a favorable review from The New York Times.[6] He later appeared with the SLSO in March 2003, and the SLSO named Robertson its next Music Director in December 2003, effective with the 2005-2006 season.

In April 2005, Robertson led the SLSO for the second time in a Carnegie Hall concert, after a labor dispute at the SLSO was resolved.[7] Robertson conducted the SLSO in Carnegie Hall again in November 2005, March and April 2006, and March 2007.[8] Robertson was one of Carnegie Hall's Perspectives artists for the 2005-2006 season, and he curated concerts with the SLSO and other performances with various guest artists and ensembles.

Robertson is generally regarded as having restored the SLSO's artistic prominence after the sudden resignation of the prior music director, Hans Vonk, and the orchestra's labor dispute in the winter of 2005.[9] New concert series begun during his tenure include a group of contemporary music concerts with The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and a series of "Fusion Concerts" at the Touhill Performing Arts Center of the University of Missouri–St. Louis. In September 2006, the SLSO announced the extension of Robertson's contract through 2010, with a clause to allow for yearly renewal.[10] As of November 2009, his SLSO contract was through the 2011-2012 season.[11] Following a subsequent contract renewal through 2014,[12] his SLSO contract was extended, in January 2013, through the 2015-2016 season.[13] In March 2014, the orchestra and Robertson announced a further extension of his SLSO contract through the 2017-2018 season.[14]

From the start of his tenure in St. Louis, speculation had been intense that both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the New York Philharmonic (NYP) were both trying to sign Robertson as their music director.[15] The 2006 SLSO action momentarily ended the discussion relating to the Chicago position, at least through 2010, although there was renewed Chicago press speculation in 2007 that the CSO restored Robertson to its list of candidates.[16][17] This speculation ended with the naming of Riccardo Muti as the CSO's next music director in April 2008.[18] In 2007, press reports said that the New York Philharmonic was still considering signing Robertson as its next music director,[19][20] which ended with the July 2007 naming of Alan Gilbert to that post.[21]

With the SLSO, Robertson has conducted a commercial recording of music of John Adams for the Nonesuch label, featuring Guide to Strange Places and the revised version of the Doctor Atomic Symphony.[22]

Other conducting work[edit]

In February 2005, Robertson was named the principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (BBC SO)[23] and he assumed that post later in the year, in parallel with the beginning of his St. Louis tenure. On September 12, 2009, Robertson became the second American conductor and the first standing BBC SO principal guest conductor to conduct the Last Night of the Proms.[24] He concluded his tenure as the BBC SO's principal guest conductor in August 2012.[25]

Robertson first guest-conducted the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2003. In May 2012, he was named the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's next chief conductor and artistic adviser, effective 1 January 2014, with an initial contract through 2018.[26]

Robertson's other work in contemporary music has included serving as Festival Director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's January 2008 Concrete Frequency Festival, as well as Music Director of the 2008 Ojai Music Festival in Ojai, California., His work in opera has included several appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, including Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (1996), Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail (2008),[27] Britten's Billy Budd (2012).[28] and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in 2012.[29]

Robertson has recorded for the Sony Classical, harmonia mundi, Naive, EMI/Virgin Classics, Atlantic/Erato, Nuema, Ades Valois, Naxos and Nonesuch labels, featuring the music of such composers as Adams, Bartók, Boulez, Carter, Dusapin, Dvorák, Ginastera, Lalo, Manoury, Milhaud, Reich, Saint-Saëns, and Silvestrov.

Personal life[edit]

Robertson has been married three times. His third wife is pianist Orli Shaham,[30] the sister of violinist Gil Shaham. Robertson and Shaham first met at a January 1999 SLSO concert, which was the SLSO debut for both of them. They married on January 3, 2003.[31] She is mother to their two youngest sons, twin boys Nathan Glenn and Alex Jacob, born September 15, 2007.[32] Robertson has two sons, Peter and Jonathan, from his second marriage to the German writer Ane Dahm. The family make their home in New York City.

Honors and awards[edit]

Robertson received the Seaver/National Endowment for the Arts Conductors Award in 1997. In December 1999, Musical America named David Robertson Conductor of the Year. Robertson received the 2006 Ditson Conductor's Award from Columbia University for his championing of American music. In April 2010, Robertson was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[33] On May 15, 2010, Robertson received the degree Doctor of Music honoris causa from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. In October 2011, Robertson was named a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the Ministry of Culture of France.[34]


  1. ^ Porter Anderson (25 April 2001). "David Robertson: Career chromatics". CNN. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  2. ^ Peter Marks (26 November 2001). "Rapport at the End of a Baton". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-20. 
  3. ^ Anthony Tommasini (27 January 2003). "For Adventure, Try Boulez and Stay Till the End". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  4. ^ George Thomson (31 January 2003). "Newer Music, Old Europe". San Francisco Classical Voice. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  5. ^ Sarah Bryan Miller (22 January 2007). "Risky program works beautifully for Symphony". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  6. ^ Anthony Tommasini (11 February 2002). "Music Review: Sly Wit for a Modernist, Clarity for Impressionists". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  7. ^ Anthony Tommasini (18 April 2005). "Labor Bitterness Plays Second Fiddle to Artistry". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  8. ^ Bernard Holland (2 April 2007). "Tick, Tock, or Maybe Tock, Tick". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  9. ^ Cheryl Wittenauer, "Music director Robertson hits the right notes in St. Louis". Associated Press, May 2006. Archived January 4, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Music Director David Robertson's Contract Extended Through 2010" Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, 14 September 2006.
  11. ^ David Mermelstein (2009-11-04). "The Conductor Reflects". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-11-25. 
  12. ^ Sarah Bryan Miller (2012-05-14). "SLSO: David Robertson adds a second orchestral gig - in Sydney (Culture Club Blog)". St Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  13. ^ Sarah Bryan Miller (2013-01-03). "David Robertson renews contract with SLSO (Culture Club Blog)". St Louis Post Dispatch. Retrieved 2013-01-27. 
  14. ^ "St. Louis Symphony Announces Contract Extension With Music Director David Robertson Through 2017-2018" (Press release). Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. 4 March 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-12. 
  15. ^ Mark Swed (2005-11-13). "Urbane renewal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  16. ^ John von Rhein, "Robertson tapped into spirit of St. Louis". Chicago Tribune, 17 September 2006.
  17. ^ John von Rhein, "CSO conductor contest narrows". Chicago Tribune, 18 July 2007.
  18. ^ Daniel J. Wakin (2008-05-06). "And the Brass Ring Goes to Chicago Symphony: Riccardo Muti Says Yes". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-16. 
  19. ^ "Fred Kirshnit, "Good Raw Material Results in a Mess". ''New York Sun'', 25 January 2007". Nysun.com. 2007-01-25. Retrieved 2011-12-19. 
  20. ^ "George Loomis, "An Answer to the Conductor Crisis". ''New York Sun'', 30 March 2007". Nysun.com. 2007-03-30. Retrieved 2011-12-19. 
  21. ^ Daniel J. Wakin (18 July 2007). "The Philharmonic Picks New Music Director". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-19. 
  22. ^ Michael Upchurch (2011-12-30). "At SSO: Adams' 'Doctor Atomic Symphony'". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2014-01-12. 
  23. ^ Geoffrey Norris (2005-02-02). "'I'm here to raise the standard'". Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-02-22. 
  24. ^ "Prom 76: Last Night of the Proms". BBC. 9 April 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2009. 
  25. ^ Catherine Bott, BBC Radio 3, Broadcast of Prom 25, 1 August 2012.
  26. ^ "Sydney Symphony Announces New Chief Conductor and Artistic Director - David Robertson" (PDF) (Press release). Sydney Symphony Orchestra. 15 May 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  27. ^ Vivien Schweitzer (2008-04-28). "Pasha & Co. in Mozart's Singspiel". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-16. 
  28. ^ Anthony Tommasini (2012-05-06). "Sailor Fighting the Undertow of Repression". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-05-18. 
  29. ^ Tommasini, Anthony (28 October 2012). "Reverting to Another Time to Revitalize Mozart Opera". New York Times. Retrieved 29 October 2012. 
  30. ^ Jeannette Batz Cooperman (September 2005). "Brilliant Overtures". St. Louis Magazine. Retrieved 2007-09-04. 
  31. ^ Arthur Lubow (19 January 2003). "21st-Century Conductor". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-20. 
  32. ^ "Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra's Music Director, David Robertson, and Wife Have Twin Boys". Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (press release), 17 September 2007.
  33. ^ "New American Academy Announces 2010 Class of Fellows and Foreign Honorary Members" (Press release). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 19 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-02. 
  34. ^ "Conductor David Robertson Named 'Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres'". Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra (press release), 14 October 2011.

External links[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Emmanuel Krivine
Music Director, Orchestre National de Lyon
Succeeded by
Jun Märkl