By Scott MacClelland
World traveler Stewart Robertson has always returned to his Carmel Valley home. Actually, he has always returned to his various homes, in Florida, in his native Scotland, and elsewhere. After a long international career conducting opera and concerts, he has finally decided that he wants to wind down a bit. “I’m focusing on the things I really like to do, and that’s all,” he says. “I don’t see another Barber of Seville in my future.” He’s available for guest appearances, season by season, but “I turned down three or four things I’d have liked to do because of my Florida orchestra schedule.” Then, when he was asked to do two performances of Salome with the Utah Symphony last year, “I roared with laughter.” It was a huge success, sold out, “really knocked your socks off. It proves that nothing succeeds like excess,” he crows about the notorious Richard Strauss stage outrage.
Robertson, his wife Meryl and two now-long-flown-the-coop children came to Carmel Valley in 1979 when he was contracted to tour (locally) with a chamber orchestra under the auspices of Hidden Valley Music Seminars. Yet those who know his work with Hidden Valley, including recent opera productions of La bohème and Don Giovanni, will likely be surprised to learn the breadth and depth of his long career. In the early ‘80s, Robertson was hired to form a youth orchestra here (the predecessor of Youth Music Monterey) and simultaneously took a turn as music director of the Mid-Columbia Symphony at Richland, Washington. Those young seeds would flower into a major international opera and concert career.
Between then and now, Robertson added the San Bernardino Symphony, and the Santa Fe Symphony where he championed new music and frequently appeared as a guest on National Public Radio. He enjoyed two highly successful tenures as artistic director of Opera Omaha and music director of Florida Grand Opera in Miami. Equally at home in the concert hall, he performed worldwide with such orchestras as the BBC Scottish, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Netherlands Symphony, Mecklenburg Staatskapelle, Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Mexico, the North German Philharmonic, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Domestically, he has appeared with the Louisville Orchestra, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the opera company of Philadelphia and, on the basis of his two decades of phenomenal growth by the Glimmerglass Opera in New York State, is honored as that company’s Music Director Emeritus. He has conducted the opera companies of Montreal, Detroit and Philadelphia and the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf, among many others.
He has also led the Ukraine State Philharmonic both in Kiev and on tour in Holland and, with them, has recorded the symphonies of Shostakovich and Prokofiev. He made a highly successful debut with the Arturo Toscanini Philharmonic Orchestra and the chorus of the Maggio Musicale Florence, conducting the closing concert of Italy’s famed Festival of the Nations in Citta di Castello, Umbria. His recordings with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Utah Symphony, Ukraine Philharmonic and Glimmerglass Opera can be heard on the Chandos, Naxos, New World and Verdi/EMI labels. His recording of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s opera The Mines of Sulphur for Chandos was nominated for a Grammy. He premiered David Carlson’s Anna Karenina at Miami, has performed it with many American companies (including Opera San Jose) and recorded it with the St. Louis Symphony for the Signum label.
Today, Robertson conducts the Atlantic Classical Orchestra in Florida whose personnel come from all over the US. They have performed and recorded with violinist Elmar Oliveira and have begun a new series focusing on younger American composers.
The idea for a Hidden Valley string orchestra seems to have begun with violinist Roy Malan, long-time concertmaster of the San Francisco Ballet orchestra, who has worked with Robertson since 1979. After Don Giovanni and La bohème, the two men, and Hidden Valley’s Peter Meckel, tossed it around. As Robertson recalls, “We all thought why not start something?” Malan, as well-known in the Bay Area as in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, invited several of his colleagues to “come down and relax a little, unpressured,” as Robertson put it, adding, “Peter started to think about another one in May next year.”
This weekend’s string orchestra program, with performances at Hidden Valley and at St. John’s Episcopal in Aptos, will include Grieg’s Holberg Suite, Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings and JS Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins featuring violinists Malan and Farkhad Khudiyev with a string quintet. (Visit our Calendar for details.)