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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 1:48 pm | Fair 67º


Santa Barbara Symphony’s John Robinson Doesn’t Miss a Beat

Departing executive director was key to orchestrating a period of growth for the ensemble

“A mini miracle happens every time the orchestra comes together,” said John Robinson, executive director of the Santa Barbara Symphony. “Eighty musicians, who have devoted their lives to mastering their craft, assemble and perform magic.”

Robinson was raised in a Boston family who celebrated music. He took piano lessons throughout his childhood and sang in the church choir. While he always loved music, Robinson said he didn’t see how he could make a viable career of it. His parents, who were both academics, encouraged him to pursue something more traditional.

During his junior year at Haverford College, Robinson accompanied his father, a constitution academic, on an auspicious business trip to Japan. Robinson said he became intensely curious about the Japanese culture and returned to finish his history major with a focus on Japan. Next, he won a prestigious Midorikai scholarship to study the traditional Japanese tea ceremony in Kyoto for the next year. It was during this intense time of reflection, Robinson said, that he realized he still wanted to pursue his true calling — music.

For the next two years, Robinson turned his studies to piano, composition, voice and conducting — all taught in Japanese through the lens of the local culture. He taught English to corporate executives to pay bills and absorbed all he could about his two passions. He returned to the United States to earn a master’s degree in music at the New England Conservatory. Recognizing the immense talent around him, Robinson conceded that he would be better tracked to support and promote musicians than to make his living through playing.

After graduation, Robinson went into artist management in Boston, then New York. He booked tours throughout North American for top musicians and learned the business. He said his music background helped him work with artists and venues, as he better understood their position. During his time in management, Robinson noticed that many of the orchestral tours he booked would route through several predicable markets including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston, and often through a less expected city — Santa Barbara, which conveniently fit between their dates in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

“It takes a lot of support and resources to bring such talent to a city, so I knew that Santa Barbara had a deep appreciation and interest in the arts,” Robinson said.

He came on board as the executive director of the Santa Barbara Symphony in 2002 and stimulated a dynamic period of growth. He recruited a new music director and orchestrated the symphony’s move to the newly renovated Granada. He also led a marketing initiative aimed to introduce the symphony to a younger audience. As part of the effort to freshen the brand, Robinson worked with creative consultant Wayne Kosaka of Kosaka Design to revise its fliers, brochures and Web site to reflect a more modern and accessible organization.

“The symphony is often perceived as elitist, and we want to change that — bring it to the masses,” Robinson said.

Through the many hats he wears as executive director, Robinson interacts with supporters, foundation and board members, and the public.

“Knowing no one when our family arrived to Santa Barbara eight years ago, this position has a been an incredible perch — in the broadest sense — to meet a wonderful community,” he said.

Robinson’s wife recently accepted a position with the San Francisco Symphony, which will bring his tenure with the symphony to a close. He plans to stay in the arts, in some capacity, and welcomes the next chapter of his life.

The Santa Barbara Symphony’s operating budget of $2.5 million is raised through ticket sales (40 percent) and charitable donations (60 percent). Most orchestra musicians have been playing daily since age 6 or 7 as a lifelong pursuit of their passion. To earn a living, many of the musicians also play in other symphonies and bands or teach in the Los Angeles area.

The symphony will welcome a special guest to The Granada this weekend. Heralded by critics as one of the outstanding pianists of his generation, Argentine-Venezuelan Sergio Daniel Tiempo will perform Peter Tchaikovsky’s heroic Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 23. The orchestra will open the program with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s masterpiece, Sheherazade, Opus 35, based on the dramatic fables of the Arabian Nights, and the symphony’s concertmaster, Caroline Campbell, will perform the notable Scheherazade violin solos for the performances at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Click here to purchase tickets, or call The Granada box office at 805.899.2222.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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