Joseph Robinson, B.A., M.P.A., Honorary Doctorate
For 27 years from June 1978 until September 2005, Joseph Robinson served as principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic. Following his famous predecessor Harold Gomberg, he was the last oboist in America to study directly with the legendary Marcel Tabuteau. Like both of them, Joseph Robinson became one of the most distinguished orchestra musicians of his era.
Since his retirement from the New York Philharmonic in September 2005, Joseph Robinson has continued to appear extensively as an oboe soloist, chamber musician, teacher and clinician from Atlanta to Alaska. Performances have included concerti by J. S. Bach; G. F. Handel, J. C. Bach, W. A. Mozart, R. Vaughan-Williams, J. Francaix and R. Strauss, which he played eight times during the summer of 2007. He also appears often in duo concerti and recital programs with Mary Kay Robinson, his violinist wife.
Joseph Robinson continues to coach and teach each summer at the Bowdoin International Music Festival and to participate in the Bellingham Festival of Music. He is a member of the board of directors of the Pacific Arts Association. In April 2006, together with award-winning film maker Jason Starr, he produced in New York City’s Riverside Church an historic concert/documentary of Mahler’s Second Symphony, broadcasts of which began in 2008.
Named a Scholar of the Aspen Institute in 1994, he served for four years on the "Magic of Music" panel for Knight Foundation—a group that directed major funding in support of American symphony orchestras. In 1983 he received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from his undergraduate alma mater, Davidson College, where with Zubin Mehta's help he created a major scholarship fund for young musicians at the school. In 1989 he proposed, planned and arranged funding for the New York Philharmonic's two-week stay at the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming—the first residency in the Philharmonic's 147-year history. As a member of its board of directors in 1992, Joseph Robinson produced “Heroes of Conscience” for Union Theological Seminary both as a benefit concert, which helped raise $2 million for an endowment at the Seminary in memory of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and as an Emmy-award-winning television concert/documentary. He created and directed chamber music residencies for his Philharmonic colleagues at The Homestead, a five-star resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, and at Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pennsylvania. In the spring of 2003 he produced “Prelude to Piano,” an event that involved pianist Emmanuel Ax and fifteen other professionals in joint performances with students at Northern Valley High School in Demarest, New Jersey, and that raised nearly $100,000 for purchase of the school’s new Steinway B.
Named a charter member of the Board of Overseers of The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as well as of the Thomas S. Kenan Institute of the Arts, Joseph Robinson helped organize the Children’s Merry-Go-Round, Inc., a not-for-profit organization aspiring to build a carousel for peace in Israel. In 1976 he created, in honor of his teacher the John Mack Oboe Camp at Little Switzerland, North Carolina, one of the most successful specialty seminars of its kind in the world, and for three years he headed a national advisory committee for Oberlin College Conservatory. As president of the Grand Teton Orchestral Seminar, he helped develop unique orchestral training that inspired imitation in the first Master of Orchestral Performance degree in American higher education at Manhattan School of Music, where Robinson was department chair for the program and head of Oboe Studies. In Riverside Church in New York City on May 15, 2005 he received the Presidential Medal—Manhattan’s highest award—for 27 years of meritorious faculty service to the School.
Joseph Robinson’s career as an oboist began effectively with his appointment by Music Director Robert Shaw to the principal chair of the Atlanta Symphony in 1967. From 1974 until 1978 he was instructor ofoOboe at the North Carolina School of the Arts, during which time he served as a member of the Clarion Woodwind Quintet and the Piedmont Chamber Orchestra. He also served as volunteer principal oboe and member of the board of directors of the Winston-Salem Symphony. He won the New York Philharmonic Principal Oboe audition in December 1977, following a tour the previous summer in which he was acting assistant principal with the Cleveland Orchestra. Despite an invitation from Music Director Seiji Ozawa following a week of concerts as guest oboist with his orchestra, Joseph Robinson declined to join the Boston Symphony in the spring of 1989.
A native of Lenoir, North Carolina, Joseph Robinson majored in English and economics at Davidson College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and earned a Fulbright Award for study of federal governmental support to the arts in Germany. It was during this post-graduate year in Europe that he met Marcel Tabuteau and became that great teacher’s first student in the ten years since his retirement from the Philadelphia Orchestra. A frequent public speaker, he has keynoted the Wyoming Governor's Conference on the Arts in Cheyenne and the Association of North Carolina Symphony Orchestras in Raleigh and has lectured widely on orchestra governance, as well as the interpretative art of music. He is author of several published articles, including one in the Wilson Quarterly concerning the need to reintroduce instrumental training in the nation's public schools, another in Instrumentalist dealing with fundamentals of oboe playing, and still another in Harmony that recommends a competitive format as a way of increasing public interest in orchestra concerts. As a demonstration of this competitive potential for orchestras, Robinson and his counterpart, Richard Woodhams, produced a concert performed jointly by players from the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in Camden, New Jersey in November 1996—an unprecedented event hailed by The New York Times as "a classic battle of the bands." His invitation to Johanna Johnson, a 16-year-old oboe-playing cancer patient from California, that permitted her to fulfill a Make-A-Wish Foundation dream by performing in the New York Philharmonic, sparked international interest in December 2000. In April 2005 he joined Johanna Johnson for her senior recital at Gustavus-Adolphus College in Minnesota. Joseph Robinson is married to violinist Mary Kay Robinson, a former member of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and they are parents of three remarkable daughters.
- B.A., Davidson College
- M.P.A., Princeton University
- Honorary Doctorate, Davidson College