“Her name is inscribed in the history of her instrument” —Fanfare
“American Treasure” Paula Robison was born in Tennessee to a family of actors, writers, dancers, and musicians. She spent her childhood in Southern California, learned to play the flute in her school orchestra, and studied dance with Bella Lewitsky and theater with Jeff Corey. When she was twelve years old music claimed her heart and she knew she wanted to be a flutist.
At the age of seventeen Robison played for Julius Baker, who remarked to her parents: “Now I know how Jascha Heifetz’s teacher must have felt…she is flawless.” He insisted that she move to New York to study with him at the Juilliard School. This began her many years of life in New York City and her many international adventures as a groundbreaking flute soloist and chamber music artist.
When Robison was twenty years old, Leonard Bernstein invited her to solo with the New York Philharmonic. Her historic recording of “Volière” by Saint-Saens is still available on CD and was featured in the film “Moonrise Kingdom”. She gave her Carnegie recital debut under the auspices of Young Concert Artists and the New York Times wrote: “Music bursts from her as naturally as leaves from trees”. Study with the great Marcel Moyse followed, and in 1966 Paula Robison won First Prize at the Geneva International Competition, the first American to receive this honor.
Robison has commissioned works for flute and orchestra by Leon Kirchner, Toru Takemitsu, Oliver Knussen, Robert Beaser, and Kenneth Frazelle, premiered music by Lowell Liebermann, Michael Tilson Thomas, Pierre Boulez, Thea Musgrave, Alberto Ginastera, Elliott Carter, William Schuman, Keith Jarrett, and Carla Bley, performed Leonard Bernstein’s “Hålil” in Vienna and Carl Nielsen’s Concerto in Copenhagen, and presented a rich spectrum of music from Mozart Concerti to Brazilian Samba in her many appearances at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Her “Paula and…” series at Alice Tully Hall was a sold-out New York tradition, and for over twenty years she celebrated the music of Vivaldi, Handel, and Mozart in her annual series with Chamber Orchestra in the Temple of Dendur at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ms Robison was a founding Artist Member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. During this time, she was co-director with Scott Nickrenz of the famed Noontime Concerts at the Spoleto Festivals, presenting many great artists early in their careers. For her contributions to American and Italian cultural life she was awarded the Adelaide Ristori Prize, the Premio Pegaso, and honorary citizenship for life from the City of Charleston, South Carolina.
“With Art”, an ongoing series with visual artists, has included Sol LeWitt and Mozart in a special installation at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Luciano Berio with art from the 1950s at PS 1 in New York, Jim Schantz in Jerusalem, Toru Takemitsu’s mysteries in the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum, and a battle with Tim Hawkinson’s UberOrgan at MASS MoCA. In March of 2015, Ms. Robison and pianist/celestist Bruce Brubaker performed Morton Feldman’s epic 3.5 hour work “For Christian Wolff” on four successive Monday afternoons in Calderwood Hall, Boston. Listeners were free to come and go quietly, but most stayed to experience the entire life-changing masterpiece. Brazilian music has been central to Ms. Robison’s playing life, and she has had the delight of performing, touring, and recording with guitarist Romero Lubambo and percussionist Cyro Baptista as the RLB Trio. She also had the honor of making music with the legendary Altamiro Carrilho and his ensemble in Rio de Janeiro.
Robison’s historic recordings for Vanguard Classics were recently reissued, including “The Art of Paula Robison”, a collection of Vanguard favorites. She has also recorded for Sony, Mode (the complete Berio Sequenzas, awarded the Premio del Disco Amadeus 2008, and Lei Liang’s “In Praise of Shadows”), New World Records, King Records, MHS, and Bridge Recordings (her Marlboro Festival performance of Schubert’s Introduction and Variations with Rudolf Serkin).
In 2006 Robison founded Pergola Recordings. Critically acclaimed releases have included collaborations with pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yefim Bronfman, Timothy Hester, and Samuel Sanders, harpsichordist John Gibbons, violinists Krista Bennion Feeney and Calvin Wiersma, bassist John Feeney, percussionists Cyro Baptista and Ayano Kataoka, and guitarists Romero Lubambo and Sergio Brandao.
Paula Robison has taught at the Juilliard School and given classes all over the world. She is DMA honoris causa from the San Francisco Conservatory, and now occupies the Donna Hieken Flute Chair at New England Conservatory. She is grateful for her husband Scott Nickrenz, Abrams Curator of Music Emeritus of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, for their daughter Elizabeth Fein, Ph.D University of Chicago, now assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, Duquesne University, for daughter Erika Nickrenz, pianist of the stellar Eroica Trio, for her loving extended family, for her supporters and listeners who said early on to a female flute soloist “Yes, you can”, for her inspiring fellow players and teachers, and for her students through all these many years and now continuing to the future, all of whom have found and are now finding ways to make our world a better and more beautiful place with their music.