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Music Directors

Henry Sopkin

1945–1966 Music Director

Robert Shaw

Music Director
Music Director Emeritus and Conductor Laureate

Yoel Levi

Music Director
Music Director Emeritus

Robert Spano

2001–Present Music Director

Henry Sopkin
Music Director, 1945–1966

Henry Sopkin founded a youth orchestra in 1945, organized by members of the Atlanta Music Club, and later guided by a Board of Directors. In his tenure, he quickly grew the youth orchestra into what is now known as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Mr. Sopkin, a gifted young conductor and educator from Chicago, was initially brought in with a one-year contract, but by 1947, the youth orchestra became the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the Symphony Guild became more active in fundraising and ticket sales. Within a decade, the budget tripled, and the Orchestra expanded its repertoire, increasing its programs for young people and bringing the world’s top soloists to the stage. Mr. Sopkin retired in 1967 — more than two decades after his one-year contract began — and passed the baton to his successor, Robert Shaw. The Orchestra’s planned giving campaign is named in his honor – The Henry Sopkin Circle.

Robert Shaw
Music Director, 1967–1988
Music Director Emeritus and Conductor Laureate, 1988–1999

Robert Shaw became the Orchestra’s second music director in August of 1967 and shortly thereafter founded the now legendary Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Chamber Chorus. During Mr. Shaw’s tenure, the Orchestra significantly expanded its concert offerings as well as the size and pay of the Orchestra itself. Among the highlights of his time as Music Director were the Orchestra’s first ever European tour, plus concerts in New York’s Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.

Mr. Shaw’s recordings with Telarc International produced 18 Grammy awards for orchestral and choral recordings. As Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, he won the ASCAP Award four times for adventuresome programming of contemporary music, and he twice received the Georgia Governor’s Award in the Arts. The ASO Chorus also won the award as a group in 1989.

In 1988 Mr. Shaw stepped down and the Orchestra welcomed Yoel Levi, who was to become the third Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony. Mr. Shaw was then named Music Director Emeritus and Conductor Laureate — a title he held until his death in 1999.

» Read More: Shaw's Legacy

Yoel Levi
Music Director, 1988–2000
Music Director Emeritus, 2000–2005

Yoel Levi was Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from 1988 until 2000. Among his many milestones while with the Orchestra were leading the ensemble on a critically acclaimed European tour in 1991, an internationally viewed performance of the Atlanta Symphony at the Opening Ceremony of the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta in July 1996. He also led the performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. During the 1991-92 season, Mr. Levi and the Atlanta Symphony were named “Best Orchestra of the Year” during the first annual International Classical Music Awards. On his time with the Atlanta Symphony, Gramophone magazine has said, “Yoel Levi has built a reputation for himself and his Orchestra that is increasingly the envy of his Big Five American counterparts in New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, and Chicago.” Following his departure in 2000, Mr. Levi was appointed the Orchestra’s Music Director Emeritus for a period of five years, ending in 2005.

Mr. Levi has made more than 40 recordings on different labels with various orchestras to date, 30 of which were with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for Telarc International. The recordings are devoted to music by Barber, Beethoven, Brahms, Copland, Dvorák, Hindemith, Kodály, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, Rossini, Saint-Saëns, Schoenberg, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky.

» Read More: Yoel Levi's IMG Artists Page

Robert Spano
Music Director, 2001–Present

Robert Spano, recognized internationally as one of the most imaginative conductors today, is currently in his tenth season as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s fourth music director. Since 2001 he has invigorated and expanded the Orchestra’s repertoire while elevating the ensemble to new levels of international prominence and acclaim.

The Atlanta School of Composers reflects Mr. Spano and the Orchestra’s commitment to nurturing and championing music through multi-year partnerships defining a new generation of American composers, including Osvaldo Golijov, Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Theofanidis, and Michael Gandolfi. Since the beginning of his tenure (to date), Mr. Spano and the Orchestra have performed over 100 concerts featuring contemporary works (composed since 1950), including 13 ASO-commissioned world premieres, and three additional world premieres.

Mr. Spano has a discography with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra of nine recordings, six of which have been honored with GRAMMY® awards. He has led the Orchestra's performances at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, as well as the Ravinia, Ojai, and Savannah Music Festivals. Mr. Spano was Musical America's 2008 Conductor of the Year. In March 2010, Mr. Spano began a three-year tenure as Emory University’s Distinguished Artist in Residence, in which he spends three weeks each year leading intensive seminars, lecturing and presenting programs on science, math, philosophy, literature and musicology throughout the University’s campus.

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