Joe Robinson

Joe Robinson in a white dinner jacket playing the oboe

Joe Robinson, retired principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic, is a key ingredient in the inception of Inside the Notes. Listening to his charismatic stories solidified my need to have these moments recorded and preserved, to pass on to future generations.  His storytelling is captivating, just like his beautiful playing.

Joseph Robinson with sun glasses posing with his oboe

Joe has recently written a memoir entitled Long Winded, which you can purchase here.

Joe Robinson, oboe

Joe Robinson, retired principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic, has been a leader in the woodwind community for over 30 years.  His engaging storytelling will captivate you as he recalls his early music education, special moments in the New York Philharmonic, and a unique bond he had with Marcel Tabuteau.

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. (See Career Highlights for a chronology of his New York Philharmonic activities).

Joseph and his wife Mary Kay Robinson posing for a portrait

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.

Currently Artist in Residence at Lynn University’s Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton, Florida, Joseph Robinson also participates each summer in the Bellingham (WA) Festival of Music.

He was Artist in Residence at Duke University from 2006-2008, where he produced important double reed events and collaborated with faculty members and the Ciompi Quartet. Together with award-winning film maker Jason Starr, in 2006 he produced in New York City’s Riverside Church an historic concert/documentary of Mahler’s Second Symphony.

Named a Scholar of the Aspen Institute in 1994, he served for four years on the “Magic of Music” panel forKnight 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. (See Fundraising for more information about fundraising projects.)

Joe Robinson posing with Erika Block after taping Inside the Notes

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—atManhattan School of Music, where Mr. 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 twenty-seven 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 of Oboe 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 following Mr. Tabuteau’s retirement from the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Marcel Tabuteau portrait from France
Marcel Tabuteau

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 Harmonythat recommends a competitive format as a way of increasing public interest in orchestra concerts.  As a demonstration of this competitive potential for orchestras,  Mr. 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 daughtersexecutive Katie, doctor Jody and diva Becky.

This is the recording of Scheherazade that Joe referenced during the podcast.

Here is the other record that Joe referenced, New York Philharmonic, with Bruno Walter

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