Robert Shaw (conductor)
Robert Shaw (
April 30, 1916– January 25, 1999) was an American conductor most famous for his work with his namesake Chorale, with the Cleveland Orchestraand Chorus, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestraand Chorus. Shaw received 14 Grammyawards, four ASCAPawards for service to contemporary music, the first Guggenheim Fellowshipever awarded to a conductor, the Alice M. Ditson Conductor's Awardfor Service to American Music; the George Peabody Medal for outstanding contributions to music in America, the Gold Baton Award of the American Symphony Orchestra League for "distinguished service to music and the arts, the American National Medal of Arts, France's Officier des Arts et des Lettres, England's Gramophone Award, and was a 1991 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.cite web | author= | title=Robert Shaw | url=http://www.telarc.com/biography/bios.asp?aid=97 | publisher=Telarc | date= | accessdate=2007-09-19] Singers.com website, "Robert Shaw", http://www.singers.com/choral/robertshaw.html]
Shaw was born in
Red Bluff, California. In 1941, he founded the Collegiate Chorale, a group notable in its day for its racial integration. In 1945, the group performed Ludwig Van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the NBC Symphonyand Arturo Toscanini, who famously remarked, "In Robert Shaw I have at last found the maestro I have been looking for." Joseph A. Mussulman (1979). "Dear People...Robert Shaw", Hinshaw Music, Inc. ISBN 0-937276-18-9] Shaw continued to prepare choirs for Toscanini until March 1954, when they sang in " Te Deum" by Verdiand the prologue to " Mefistofele" by Boito. Shaw's choirs participated in the NBC broadcast performances of three Verdi operas: " Aida", " Falstaff" and " A Masked Ball". They can be seen on the home videos of the telecasts of " Aida" and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony(from April 1948). Shaw himself took a bow at the end of the Beethoven telecast.
He went on to found the
Robert Shaw Choralein 1949, a group which produced numerous recordings on RCA Recordsup until his appointment in Atlanta. The Chorale visited 30 countries in tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Shaw was named music director of the San Diego Symphonyin 1953 and served in that post for four years. Only after his San Diego tenure did he become an apprentice again, studying the art of conducting with George Szelland serving as his assistant at the Cleveland Orchestrafor eleven seasons. He also took over the fledgling Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and fine-tuned it into one of the finest all-volunteer choral ensembles sponsored by an American symphony orchestra. From 1967-1988 he was music directorand conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.Nick Jones (1999), "The Legacy of Robert Shaw", Atlanta Symphony Orchestra website, http://www.atlantasymphony.org/abouttheaso/legacyofrobertshaw.aspx] In 1970, he founded the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorusand worked to recreate the success he had had for Cleveland in preparing them for performances and recordings with their namesake symphony orchestra.
After stepping down from his Atlanta post in 1988, Shaw continued to conduct the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as its Music Director Emeritus and Conductor Laureate, was a regular guest conductor with other orchestras including Cleveland, and taught in a series of summer festivals and week-long
Carnegie Hallworkshops for choral conductors and singers.
Although noted in classical repertoire, Shaw hardly limited himself to that genre. His discography also includes recordings of sea shanties, glee club songs, sacred music and spirituals, musical theater numbers, Irish folk tunes, and, most notably, Christmas albums that have remained bestsellers ever since their release. For
Telarche recorded several digital remakes of the Christmas albums he had previously recorded for RCA Victor, including " The Many Moods of Christmas".
During his long career, Shaw drew attention to choral music and came to be considered the "dean" of American choral conductors, mentoring a number of younger conductors—including
Jameson Marvin, Margaret Hillis, Maurice Casey, Ken Clinton, Donald Neuen, and Ann Howard Jones—and inspiring thousands of singers with whom he worked around the United States. His work set new choral standards in the United States, and many of his recordings are considered benchmarks for choral singing. [http://www.telarc.com/biography/bios.asp?aid=97 ]
In honor of Shaw's vast influence on male choral music, on February 26, 1965 he was awarded the prestigious
University of Pennsylvania Glee ClubAward of Merit [cite web | url = http://www.dolphin.upenn.edu/gleeclub/MEMBERS_merit.html|title=The University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit Recipients] . Established in 1964, this award sought "to bring a declaration of appreciation to an individual each year that has made a significant contribution to the world of music and helped to create a climate in which our talents may find valid expression."
Although his formative years and much of his work occurred before the rise of mainstream interest in informed historic performance practice, his recordings, reflecting his insistence that clearly-projected texts serve as the foundation for musical interpretation, do not sound dated in comparison to more modern efforts by frequently smaller forces. He recorded many of the great choral-orchestral works more than once, and his performances of
Handel's "Messiah", Bach's Mass in B Minor, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, Orff’s Carmina Burana, and other similar masterworks remain highly regarded.
Shaw was a champion of modern music from the beginning of his career. He commissioned a requiem for
Franklin Rooseveltfrom the newly-naturalized German composer Paul Hindemith, who responded with " When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd", a setting of the Walt Whitmanpoem in memory of Abraham Lincoln. Shaw led the premiere of the work in 1946 with the Collegiate Chorale and continued to champion the work well into the last decade of his life;cite web
title=American Composer's Orchestra, May 16, 1999: Whitman and Music
accessdate=] in 1996 he conducted a 50th anniversary performance at
Yale University, where Hindemith was a professor when he wrote the work. In 1998 Yale also awarded Shaw an honorary doctorate.
Shaw recorded for a variety of labels, beginning with a single record for American Decca and numerous releases on RCA Victor during the 78 rpm era. From the late 1970s, most of his recordings appeared on the
Telarclabel. For that company he led not only the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus but also the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers, which drew its personnel largely from the Atlanta Symphony Chamber Chorus, and the Robert Shaw Festival Singers, a group assembled for Shaw's summer choral workshops in France. His last recording was for Telarc of Dvořák's " Stabat Mater" with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, chorus, and soloists.
Shaw died in
New Haven, Connecticut, of a stroke.
*Robert K. Dean, The Foreign Tours of the Robert Shaw Chorale. Dissertation Abstracts. 2000
* [http://atlantasymphony.org/ Atlanta Symphony Orchestra website]
* [http://asochorus.org/ Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus website]
* [http://www.rainwaterreptileranch.org/scr/rs.html Robert Shaw Discography website]
* [http://delasso.googlepages.com Robert Shaw Resource website]
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