Conductor Robert Spano directs the members of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra at an open rehearsal at the Vets on Friday, September 22, 2023.
© Kris Craig – USA TODAY NETWORK

PROVIDENCE, RI: January 4, 2024 – Grammy-award winner and internationally acclaimed conductor, pianist, composer and teacher Robert Spano joins the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School effective immediately as Principal Conductor.  One of North America’s most prominent conductors, Spano was unanimously appointed Principal Conductor after making his RIPO debut this past September and working with students at the RI Philharmonic Music School.  He is known worldwide for the intensity of his artistry and distinctive communicative abilities, creating a sense of inclusion and warmth among musicians and audiences that is unique among American orchestras.  He is also known as an exceptional educator, avid mentor to young artists, and a champion of bringing living composers and their works into the mainstream of American orchestral programming.  He is uncommonly gifted in connecting orchestras and the communities they serve.

Spano’s values as an artist and educator are shared by the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School, which is the largest fully integrated professional orchestra and community music school in the United States. The Rhode Island Philharmonic plays a vital role in the region as an inclusive, artistic body dedicated to engaging and enriching the lives of all who wish to learn, practice and hear music. 

The appointment as Principal Conductor is effective immediately.  Spano will remain in the post until the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School hires a new, permanent Music Director.  That search is ongoing.

 “We are thrilled and excited to welcome an artist of Robert Spano’s stature with impressive global renown and achievements in orchestral performance and music education. He is a sincerely dedicated and multifaceted artist—a brilliant conductor, composer and educator,” said Executive Director David Beauchesne.   “He has already become a valued partner and leader in our artistic planning and I look forward to him becoming engaged in our educational activities as well.”

“I am thrilled to accept the position of Principal conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic,” said Robert Spano. “I very much enjoyed my work with this wonderful orchestra and was particularly impressed by its commitment to the Music School.  My work as a conductor had always included a major devotion to teaching and mentoring young musicians, which is crucial to the future of symphonic music.”

Conductor Robert Spano directs the members of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra at an Open Rehearsal at the Vets on Friday, September 22, 2023.
© Kris Craig – USA TODAY NETWORK

Spano added, “Larry Rachleff was a wonderful friend and colleague whom I greatly admired so I look forward to making a contribution to this organization, honoring his and Bramwell Tovey’s legacies.  I was in Providence for the first time during my last visit and was so impressed with the city and the warmth with which I was received that I very much look forward to spending more time there.”

“Members of the Orchestra, faculty, management, staff and Board are excited to bring Bob Spano on board as Principal Conductor.  He is an outstanding artist and educator, and we anticipate that he will help us continue to grow both the quality and impact of the orchestra, as well as our education and community engagement programs,” said Susan Chung, president of the RIPO&MS Board of Directors. “We are all delighted that we’ve attracted such a respected arts leader to join our team.”

About the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School:

The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & Music School inspires, engages and empowers the people of Southern New England as lifelong music listeners, teachers, learners, creators and performers. It is the only professional orchestra in the country to officially designate music education and performance as equal priorities. In addition to the Philharmonic Orchestra’s Classical, Pops, Education concerts and in-school performances, the RI Philharmonic Music School offers music education programs and performance opportunities to people of all ages, incomes and ability levels. Currently the only comprehensive, non-profit community music school in Rhode Island, the Philharmonic engages approximately 1,500 students statewide on a weekly basis at its music schools in East Providence and Westerly with an additional 13,000 students through partnerships, residencies, education concerts and in-school performances.

The Orchestra was founded in 1944.  Originally run by boards in five founding communities – Providence, Pawtucket, Cranston, Warwick and Westerly – the Philharmonic eventually consolidated its operations in Providence, with the Veterans Memorial Auditorium and PPAC as its primary performance venues.  In 2000, the Philharmonic merged with The Music School.  In December 2006, the RI Philharmonic moved its administrative offices to East Providence and in Fall 2008 opened the Carter Center for Music Education & Performance, the first facility of its kind in Rhode Island. The Center has dramatically increased the RI Philharmonic’s ability to provide high quality, comprehensive and accessible music education through its Music School to thousands of students through scholarships and community partnerships. In July 2021, the RI Phil Music School @ the UNITED opened in Westerly, RI in partnership with the UNITED Theatre.  Students come to its two school sites from virtually every community in the state, including nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut.

About Robert Spano:

 Robert Spano, conductor, pianist, composer, and teacher, is known worldwide for the intensity of his artistry and distinctive communicative abilities, creating a sense of inclusion and warmth among musicians and audiences that is unique among American orchestras. After twenty seasons as Music Director, he continues his association with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as Music Director Laureate. An avid mentor to rising artists, he is responsible for nurturing the careers of numerous celebrated composers, conductors, and performers. As Music Director of the Aspen Music Festival and School since 2011, he oversees the programming of more than 300 events and educational programs for 630 students and young performers. Principal Guest Conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra since 2019, Spano became Music Director Designate on April 1, 2021, and began an initial three-year term as Music Director in August 2022. He is the tenth Music Director in the orchestra’s history, which was founded in 1912.

Spano leads the Fort Worth Symphony symphonic and chamber music programs, as well as a gala concert with Renée Fleming and Rod Gilfry, in addition to overseeing the orchestra and music staff and shaping the artistic direction of the orchestra and driving its continued growth. Additional engagements in the 2023-2024 season include the Atlanta and New Jersey Symphonies, Denver, Naples, and Rhode Island Philharmonics, multiple weeks at Curtis and Rice University, and a recital in Napa with Kelley O’Connor.

Maestro Spano made his highly-acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut in 2019, leading the US premiere of Marnie, the second opera by American composer Nico Muhly. Recent concert highlights have included several world premiere performances, including Voy a Dormir by Bryce Dessner at Carnegie Hall with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor; George Tsontakis’s Violin Concerto No. 3 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Dimitrios Skyllas’s Kyrie eleison with the BBC Symphony Orchestra; the Tuba Concerto by Jennifer Higdon, performed by Craig Knox and the Pittsburgh Symphony; Melodia, For Piano and Orchestra, by Canadian composer Matthew Ricketts at the Aspen Music Festival; and Miserere, by ASO bassist Michael Kurth.

Spano recently returned to his early love of composing. His newest work is a song cycle on Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus that he wrote for mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor. In 2016, he premiered his Sonata: Four Elements for piano at the Aspen Music Festival, and a song cycle, Hölderlin-Lieder, for soprano Jessica Rivera. 

The Atlanta School of Composers reflects Spano’s commitment to American contemporary music. He has led ASO performances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Ravinia, Ojai, and Savannah Music Festivals.  Guest engagements have included the Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Minnesota Orchestras, New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, and the San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New World, San Diego, Oregon, Utah, and Kansas City Symphonies. Internationally, Maestro Spano has led the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, BBC Symphony, Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orquestra Sinfonica Brasileira, Orquestra Sinfonica Estado Sao Paulo, Wroclaw Philharmonic, the Melbourne and Sydney Symphonies in Australia, and the Saito Kinen Orchestra in Japan.  His opera performances include Covent Garden, Welsh National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, and the 2005 and 2009 Seattle Opera productions of Wagner’s Ring cycles.        

With a discography of critically-acclaimed recordings for Telarc, Deutsche Grammophon, and ASO Media, Robert Spano has garnered four Grammy™ Awards and eight nominations with the Atlanta Symphony. Spano is on faculty at Oberlin Conservatory and has received honorary doctorates from Bowling Green State University, the Curtis Institute of Music, Emory University, and Oberlin. Maestro Spano is a recipient of the Georgia Governor’s Award For The Arts And Humanities and is one of two classical musicians inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. He makes his home in Atlanta and Fort Worth.

Acclaim for Spano:

“Mr. Spano drew a glowing, spacious performance of this Brahms masterwork from the orchestra, marking a great return visit for both him and this essential ensemble.” – The New York Times

“The festival’s music director, Robert Spano, caught both the broadest and finest strokes of tempo, dynamics and critical orchestral balances. He drew the best playing in the quiet, subtle moments of the score and long buildups to big climaxes.” – Aspen Times

“The sonics of the CD are excellent, and the presence of both Rivera and Spano well-suited. It is a fine presentation of both Rivera’s voice and Spano’s collaborative capabilities at the piano, as well as his insight into his skills as a composer.” – ArtsATL