A consummate musician, masterful programmer and dynamic presence, David Robertson is one of today’s most sought-after American conductors. Robertson received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in 2014.
Now in his ninth season as music director of the St. Louis Symphony, Mr. Robertson has earned widespread critical acclaim and helped to elevate the profile of the 134-year-old symphony — the second-oldest in the United States — locally, nationally and internationally.
Born in Santa Monica, California, Mr. Robertson was educated at London’s Royal Academy of Music, where he studied French horn and composition before turning to orchestral conducting.
Cementing an American presence in Europe
In 1985, he was appointed resident conductor of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and in 1992 became the first American to lead the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris.
Mr. Robertson was the first artist to simultaneously hold the posts of music director of the Orchestre National de Lyon and artistic director of that city’s Auditorium, positions he maintained from 2000-04. From 2005-2012, he was principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London.
Mr. Robertson first performed with the St. Louis Symphony at Powell Hall as a guest conductor in 1999. His second appearance came in 2002, when then-conductor Hans Vonk suddenly took ill before a concert at Carnegie Hall.
With just six days to prepare, Mr. Robertson led the symphony through Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber (1943) and Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune and La Mer — a semi-legendary performance The New York Times called “brilliant.”
Since joining the St. Louis Symphony as music director in 2005, Mr. Robertson has returned the symphony to Carnegie Hall on more than a dozen occasions.
In 2009, when stormy weather prevented the arrival of Austrian composer H.K. Gruber, Mr. Robertson unexpectedly debuted as singer, stepping in to perform Gruber’s signature vocal solo on “Frankenstein.”
“How many conductors could gleefully sing the crazed words “Frankenstein is dancing with the test-tube lady,” asked the Times, “and then 24 hours later lead a serenely confident account of Wagner’s most spiritual music?”
In 2009, Mr. Robertson led the St. Louis Symphony in recording John Adams’ Doctor Atomic symphony, a work Adams dedicated to Mr. Robertson for Nonesuch Records.
The Times of London recognized the recording as the best CD of the decade 2000-2010. This year, Nonesuch will release Adams’ Concerto for Saxophone, a St. Louis Symphony co-commission, and City Noir, both recorded in Powell Hall.
In fall 2012, Mr. Robertson led the St. Louis Symphony on a critically acclaimed European tour — its first since 1998 — followed by a California tour in spring 2013.
Last fall, the symphony celebrated the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s birth with a triumphant Carnegie Hall performance of Peter Grimes, named one of the year’s top five classical concerts by The New York Times.
Earlier this year, Mr. Robertson assumed the additional post of chief conductor and artistic director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia. (Much of the Sydney season takes place during the off months in St. Louis.)
He also recently conducted the U.S. premiere of Nico Muhly’s Two Boys at The Metropolitan Opera and appeared with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
Cultivating a new era of musicians
A champion of young musicians, Mr. Robertson has devoted time to working with students and young artists throughout his career. In addition to creating and leading outreach programs with the Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Orchestre National de Lyon, he has worked with students at Carnegie Hall’s Academy, the Conservatoire de Paris, The Juilliard School, Tanglewood Music Center and the Aspen Music Festival and School.
This summer, he will lead the U.S. tour of the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America.
Mr. Robertson is the recipient of many awards and honors. In 2010, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the Excellence in the Arts award from the St. Louis Arts and Education Council. In 2011, the French government made him a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
He and his wife, pianist Orli Shaham, live in St. Louis and New York and are parents of twin boys, Nathan and Alex. Mr. Robertson also has two older sons, Peter and Jonathan.