Shaw, Robert (Lawson)
Shaw, Robert (Lawson)
Shaw, Robert (Lawson), renowned American conductor; b. Red Bluff, Calif., April 30, 1916; d. New Haven, Conn., Jan. 25, 1999. He came from a clerical family; his father and his grandfather were clergymen; his mother sang in church choirs. He studied at Pomona Coll. (1934–38), where he conducted its Glee Club. In 1938 Fred Waring asked him to help organize the Fred Waring Glee Club, and Shaw conducted it until 1945. In 1941 he founded his own Collegiate Chorale in N.Y., which he led in diversified programs of choral music, old and new, until 1954. In 1944 he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. He taught choral conducting at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood (summers, 1946–48), and concurrently at the Juilliard School of Music in N.Y. In 1946 he made his debut as a sym. conductor with the Naumburg Orch. in N.Y. In 1948 he founded the Robert Shaw Chorale, which he conducted with notable success for 20 seasons. Eager to acquire more experience as an orch. conductor, he studied conducting with Monteux in San Francisco and Rodzinski in N.Y. in 1950. From 1953 to 1958 he conducted summer concerts of the San Diego Sym. Orch. In 1956 he led the Robert Shaw Chorale through a tour of 15 countries of Europe, including Russia, and the Middle East, under the auspices of the State Dept. In 1964 the Robert Shaw Chorale gave concerts in South America. For his Chorale, Shaw commissioned several choral works from contemporary composers, including Bartók, Milhaud, Britten, Barber, and Copland. Beginning in 1956 he was co-director of the Alaska Festival of Music in Anchorage. From 1956 to 1967 he served as assoc. conductor with Szell and the Cleveland Orch. In 1967 he became music director of the Atlanta Sym. Orch., and by dint of talent and perseverance brought it to a high degree of excellence. In 1977 he conducted it at the gala concert for President Carter’s inauguration in Washington, D.C., and in 1988 he took it to Europe. After retiring from his post in 1988, he was accorded the titles of music director emeritus and conductor laureate. He then was active as director of the new inst. named in his honor at Emory Univ. In 1991 he received a Kennedy Center Honor. In 1992 President Bush awarded him the National Medal of Arts. He received the Theodore Thomas Award of the Conductors’ Guild in 1993. In 1995 he took part as both conductor and reciter in the 50th anniversary concert of the Atlanta Sym. Orch. in a program later telecast to the nation by PBS. While Shaw eventually won respect as a sym. conductor, it was as a master of the choral repertoire that he attained international distinction. For more than half a century he was America’s preeminent choral conductor. His 13 Grammy Awards and numerous honorary doctorates attest to the unbounded esteem and admiration he was accorded during his remarkable career.
J. Mussulman, Dear People…R. S.: A Biography (Bloomington, Ind. and London, 1979).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire