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Robson named Arkansas Symphony Orchestra music director

Newly-minted Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Music Director Geoffrey Robson speaks to supporters and media in downtown Little Rock on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.
Daniel Breen
Newly-minted Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Music Director Geoffrey Robson speaks to supporters and media in downtown Little Rock on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.

One of Central Arkansas’ preeminent performing arts organizations has a new leader. Officials with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday announced Geoffrey Robson will serve as their next music director.

Speaking at the site of the symphony’s future headquarters in downtown Little Rock, ASO Board Chair Jan Hundley said the announcement is the culmination of a four-year-long national search.

“As we started the search process, we decided we wanted someone who is a visionary, who is creative, who is respected and respectful, is a team player, who would continue to enhance the artistic quality of the orchestra and challenge the musicians,” Hundley said. “We found someone with all of these attributes and more.”

Robson most recently served as the symphony’s interim artistic director and an associate conductor, as well as director of youth ensembles. He holds degrees from Yale, Michigan State University and the Mannes College of Music in New York.

A roughly 15-year veteran of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Robson thanked symphony leadership and the central Arkansas community, saying he would seek to create an empowering environment from the conductor’s podium.

“I envision my role in the community as a connector, bringing the community closer together, making it more inclusive,” Robson said. “I will be a music director who is approachable, willing to listen and able to recognize and implement good ideas. I will build collaborative partnerships and help others sprout creative relationships of their own.

“We will all share, cultivate and revel in the power of music together.”

Robson was one of four finalists for the job leading the orchestra. Symphony CEO Christina Littlejohn said the announcement comes amid a larger conversation on the role of classical music organizations and their leadership.

“Before we started this journey we did have an artistic leadership task force that was like, ‘Do we even want a music director? And if we do want a music director, why do we want a music director?’ And we decided that yes, we did want an inspiring conductor… who could communicate with the skeptics that symphonic music was important,” Littlejohn said. “We wanted a music director that believed in Arkansas and wanted to serve our vision and wanted to be part of where the Arkansas Symphony was headed.”

She wryly added the symphony sought a leader with “great hair,” and had found one in Robson. His predecessor, Philip Mann, stepped down at the end of the 2018-2019 season.

Robson said one of his first priorities as music director will be overseeing the construction and eventual move to the new Stella Boyle Smith Music Center in downtown Little Rock.

“Here, a growing number of full-time performing artists and teachers will help to make music-making an activity without boundaries, without barriers and without limits. It will be a manifestation of our commitment to the community,” he said.

Construction on the 18,500-square-foot facility in Little Rock’s East Village neighborhood is expected to begin before the end of the year.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.