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Atlanta Symphony Orchestra: 2001-2020

Into the 21st Century

              In 2001, Robert Spano became the ASO’s fourth Music Director. Spano, then Music Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, inherited an Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and a Chorus (under the direction of Norman Mackenzie) that had already forged an international reputation. Under Spano’s inspired and creative leadership, in collaboration with Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles, the ASO explored new and exciting paths that established the Orchestra as a unique force in American music. Spano’s devotion to contemporary music led to the formation of the Atlanta School of Composers. Maestro Spano describes the music of the Atlanta School as: “tonal, tuneful, and influenced by both world music and popular music, yet they all write in their own, unique style.” The ASO commissioned, performed (at home and on tour), and recorded numerous Atlanta School works. Performances of complete operas and oratorios, frequently staged in “Theater of a Concert” productions, also became a regular part of the ASO’s subscription repertoire. With this exploration of contemporary repertoire and complex vocal works, the ASO emerged as an ever more flexible and versatile ensemble; one capable of giving world-class performances of an extraordinarily wide range of repertoire.

              Award-winning recordings continued under the leadership of Spano and Runnicles, on both Telarc and the Orchestra’s own ASO Media labels. The ASO made several acclaimed visits to New York’s Carnegie Hall. Other highlights include guest appearances by the ASO Chorus with the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Maestro Runnicles.

              Robert Spano’s penultimate season as Music Director, 2019/20, coincides with the Orchestra’s 75th anniversary celebration. Special highlights for Maestro Spano and the ASO include Mahler’s epic “Symphony of a Thousand”, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis (in Atlanta and Carnegie Hall), a three-day festival presentation and Atlanta-first  performance of Wagner’s path-breaking opera Tristan und Isolde, and two world premieres. Yoel Levi also returns to lead a program with guest artist Itzhak Perlman.

             From its fledgling days as the Atlanta Youth Symphony, to current status as one of America’s premier ensembles, the history of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is notable for passionate, inspired, and creative music-making. The joy of that experience has been shared by the musicians and their appreciative, supportive audiences around the world. What Robert Spano said about his tenure with the ASO also holds true for the Orchestra’s 75 years: “I believe that together, many shared goals and dreams have been achieved.” More goals, dreams, and challenges lie ahead, all in the pursuit of the glory of music. 

Text by Ken Meltzer


Robert Spano

Robert Spano, [b. - 1961] recognized internationally as one of the most imaginative conductors today, became the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s fourth Music Director in 2001.  During his tenure, he has invigorated and expanded the Orchestra’s repertoire while elevating the ensemble to new levels of international prominence and acclaim.  The Atlanta School of Composers reflects Mr. Spano and the Orchestra’s commitment to nurturing and championing music through multi-year partnerships defining a new generation of American composers, including Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Theofanidis, and Michael Gandolfi. Since the beginning of his tenure (to date), Mr. Spano and the ASO have performed over 100 concerts featuring contemporary works (composed since 1950), including 13 ASO-commissioned world premieres, and three additional world premieres.  He has led the Orchestra's performances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, as well as the Ravinia, Ojai, and Savannah Music Festivals.  Mr. Spano was Musical America's 2008 Conductor of the Year and he has received four GRAMMY® Awards.  In the Fall of 2018, he made his conducting debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.