News / USA

Conductor Marks Decade Nurturing New American Music

Under Robert Spano's direction, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is world class

Robert Spano opens the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's 2010-2011 season with The Star Spangled Banner.
Robert Spano opens the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's 2010-2011 season with The Star Spangled Banner.

When Robert Spano took over the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra 10 years ago, it was still trying to recover from tough times, including a musicians' strike and a contentious relationship with their previous conductor. But Spano managed to turn the orchestra into a world-class ensemble as well as an incubator for new American music.

Spano grew up in a musical family, composing and playing flute, violin and piano. As conductor, he's made it his mission to showcase new music in Atlanta while also championing the music of a group of composers now known as the Atlanta School.

"We had the idea, not to have a composer-in-residence, but rather to work with a few composers regularly over time and not play just one work of theirs, but to play existing music of theirs, second, third, fourth performances," says Spano. "Also, to commission and do premieres of their music, to record it, to repeat it, to make them part of our musical life, our musical family."

Robert Spano conducts the world premiere of Christoper Theofanides' 'Une Certaine Joie de Vivre' at the Atlanta Symphony's season opening night concert in September 2010.
Robert Spano conducts the world premiere of Christoper Theofanides' 'Une Certaine Joie de Vivre' at the Atlanta Symphony's season opening night concert in September 2010.

One of the members of the family is Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon. She's had six works performed and recorded by the orchestra, including "City Scape," a musical portrait of Atlanta.

"You know, for a composer, that sort of an experience is the complete dream," says Higdon. "I mean, it's just incredible to have a phenomenal orchestra with a really committed music director who believes enough in a piece to record the work on a major label and get it out there in the world. I don't think it gets any better than that, to be quite honest."

Higdon remembers that when Spano first got the job, there were doubters.

"They said, you know, 'Atlanta is a Southern town, it's conservative, it's a social scene at the orchestra, new music isn't gonna fly.' And I remember talking to him about this. I'm like, 'How do you feel about them saying this?' And he said, 'Not a problem. I know what to do. I'm gonna go in. I'll be convincing on the podium, you know?' He says, 'This is journey we all need to take together.' And, he was already, right off the bat, planning, kind of, long-term."

Robert Spano confers with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon.
Robert Spano confers with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon.

Spano knows his audience and doesn't want them just to appreciate these composers, but to love their music. Before new pieces, he presents videos and gives talks. And concerts featuring work by the Atlanta School of Composers are regularly filled almost to capacity. While these composers have different personal styles, they write in an accessible musical language. And Spano says there's one thing they all share.

"They're interested in tunes. They use tonality and they're all interested in either popular or world music or both. And that influences their writing and is part of their musical language."

An internationally-recognized artist, Spano has led many major orchestras in the U.S and abroad over the course of his 20-year career. He remains in demand as a guest conductor. He's also a dedicated teacher, and spent five summers heading the conductor training program at the Tanglewood Music Festival. That's where he met Argentine-born composer Osvaldo Golijov. The two are frequent collaborators and Spano has presented a dozen of  Golijov's works in Atlanta.

In his 10 years at the helm, Robert Spano has turned the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra into a world-class ensemble.
In his 10 years at the helm, Robert Spano has turned the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra into a world-class ensemble.

Golijov believes working with Spano makes him a better composer. "I feel that Robert is not just the conductor for my music, but he's a great editor. He's someone that challenges me in sometimes very provocative ways. Like, he doesn't take the text as sacred, he elevates me, he questions me."

Spano says his proudest accomplishment over the past 10 years has been to foster, nurture and record new work.

"I get excited about being part of a process where the person who's writing the music is also going through a voyage of discovery in their own musical life and in terms of what they're writing, what they're writing for, what forces. And to be part of that is just exhilarating."

He expects that sense of exhilaration to continue. Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra just announced they've created a new record label - ASO Media - so that they can continue to record new work.

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid