Robert Shaw (1916-1999)
Robert Shaw, the music director and conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for more than twenty years, brought the symphony to its current position as one of the finest in the country. His work with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus and Chamber Chorus contributed to a renaissance in American choral music.
Robert Lawson Shaw
In 1941, branching out from Waring's glee club, Shaw founded and directed the Collegiate Chorale, an amateur New York chorus of 185 singers that grew into a significant symphonic chorus, which performed and commissioned great choral masterworks and worked with such renowned musicians as Arturo Toscanini, Leopold Stokowski, and Paul Hindemith. It was out of this group in 1948 that Shaw formed the Robert Shaw Chorale, which for two decades reigned as America's premier touring choral group and was sent by the U.S. State Department to thirty countries in Europe, the Soviet Union, the Middle East, and Latin America.
From 1953 to 1956 Shaw served as conductor of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra in California and from
Shaw's many honors include degrees and citations from more than twenty-five U.S. colleges and universities, sixteen Grammy Awards, England's Gramophone Award, a gold record for the first RCA classical recording to sell more than a million copies, four ASCAP Awards for service to contemporary music, the first Guggenheim Fellowship ever awarded to a conductor, the Alice M. Ditson Award for service to contemporary music, the George Peabody Medal for outstanding contributions to music in America, and the Gold Baton Award of the American Symphony Orchestra League for distinguished service to music and the arts. Shaw was appointed in 1979 by U.S president Jimmy Carter to the National Council on the Arts, and in 1988 he was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. In 1991 he received the Kennedy Center Honors, the nation's highest honor to artists. He was named Musician of the Year for 1992 by Musical America, the international directory of the performing arts, and during the same year was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in a White House ceremony. He was the 1993 recipient of the Conductors Guild's Theodore Thomas Award, and in March 1997 he received the French government's highest honor to artists, the Officier des Arts et des Lettres medal. Shaw was the 1998 recipient of the Orchestra of St. Luke's Gift of Music Award in New York City, and that same year was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.
Throughout his fifty-year career, Shaw was an ardent spokesman for the importance of the role of the amateur in music making. In his weekly correspondence to the three amateur choruses around which his career centered (the Collegiate Chorale, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and the ASO Chorus), Shaw revealed what drove his restless pursuit of excellence—the edification and ennobling of the human spirit and the intelligence that comes from exposure to and, in the choral amateur's case, re-creation of great art. These essaylike letters repeatedly present Shaw's philosophy of the arts as "not the privilege of a few, but the necessity of us all."
Shaw died on January 25, 1999, in New Haven, Connecticut. In 2004 Yale University Press published a collection of Shaw's "choral letters," speeches, lectures, and eulogies entitled The Robert Shaw Reader. Shaw served as a mentor to the collection's editor, Robert Blocker, who is dean of the Yale School of Music. Yale University houses Shaw's papers and music collection.
Joseph A. Mussulman, Dear People. . . . Robert Shaw: A Biography (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979).
Robert Shaw, The Robert Shaw Reader, ed. Robert Blocker (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2004).
Jeffrey W. Baxter, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.