Robert Shaw, best known as conductor of his storied Robert Shaw Chorale, which performed around the world, was also the music director and conductor of the Atlanta Symphony from 1967 to 1988. After retiring from the Atlanta Symphony, he became principal guest conductor of the San Diego Symphony and conducted annual choral workshops at New York's Carnegie Hall.
In 1991, Shaw earned a Kennedy Center Honor; in 1992 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts; and last year he was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in Cincinnati.
Shaw earned critical attention and praise decades before those achievements.
As early as 1943, Shaw was named "America's greatest choral conductor" by the National Assn. of Composers and Conductors.
Shaw was the son and grandson of ministers, and his mother sang in her husband's various church choirs. Their five children were all trained to play piano and sing in harmony.
As a religion and English student at Pomona College, Shaw conducted its glee club, and when he went to religious conferences or other youth meetings, he organized sing-alongs. After graduation in 1938, Shaw was asked by the radio conductor Fred Waring to organize and conduct the Fred Waring Glee Club.
Shaw remained with Waring until 1945. As a Times writer described his choral duties: "He warmed 'em up, put 'em through their paces, polished up the numbers and turned 'em over to Waring fit and slick."
The Robert Shaw Chorale was created in 1948 and was Shaw's principal interest for 20 years until he joined the Atlanta Symphony. Shaw conducted concerts of the chorale in Russia and 15 other countries in Europe, as well as in the Middle East and South America. He selected contemporary composers to write scores for his group, among them Bela Bartok, Darius Milhaud and Aaron Copland.
Shaw transformed the fledgling Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from a part-time group of 60 amateurs with a $300,000 annual budget to a full-time, 93-member orchestra with a multimillion-dollar budget. He led it on tours across the country and conducted its Carnegie Hall debut in 1971 and its performance at Jimmy Carter's presidential inauguration in 1977. A year after that, he introduced the Atlanta orchestra to his Pomona alma mater for a concert in the Claremont Colleges artist series at Bridges Music Auditorium.
In addition to his work in San Diego, Shaw conducted frequently throughout Southern California. He was a popular guest at the Hollywood Bowl where, among other concerts, in 1976 he directed the bowl's first performance of Hector Berlioz's "Requiem" with the USC National Workshop Chorale and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also was a frequent visitor at the podium of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles County Music Center, where he frequently served as guest conductor of the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
— Myrna Oliver in the Los Angeles Times (Jan. 26, 1999)
Note: Robert Shaw, the British-born actor and writer, was mistakenly identified as having been a recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk fame. The star was actually given to the American-born music director and chorale conductor of the same name.
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