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 theatre with Jeff Corey. When she was twelve years old, music won out and she knew she wanted to become a flutist.
Study at the Juilliard School followed, with summers at the Marlboro Festival. When she was only twenty years old, Leonard Bernstein invited her to be a soloist with the New York Philharmonic. When she gave her New York recital debut under the auspices of Young Concert Artists, the New York Times wrote: “Music bursts from her as naturally as leaves from trees”. Soon after that Paula Robison became the first American to win First Prize at the Geneva International Competition, and her career as a groundbreaking flute soloist was launched.
When the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was formed Ms. Robison was invited to join as a founding Artist Member. She performed with the Society for twenty seasons. During the same time she was co-director with Scott Nickrenz of the chamber music concerts at the Spoleto Festivals, presenting many great artists early in their careers. She was awarded the Adelaide Ristori Prize for her contribution to Italian cultural life. There is a dessert named after her at the Tric-Trac Café in Spoleto, Italy, called the “Coppa Paola”.
A passionate advocate for new music, Paula Robison has commissioned works by Leon Kirchner, Toru Takemitsu, Robert Beaser, Kenneth Frazelle, Oliver Knussen, and Lowell Liebermann, and premiered music by Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, William Schuman, and Carla Bley, among many others.
”Notturno”, a wildly lyrical hymn to the joys and pains of a life in music, was written for Ms. Robison by Michael Tilson Thomas, and the two artists perform the work together in February of 2008 with Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony.
Also in 2007-2008 Paula Robison celebrates 15 years of Vivaldi concerts in the magnificent Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a performance of “The Four Seasons” in her own transcription for flute and orchestra.
In January of 2008 she returns to the Cartagena International Festival in Colombia with her great Brazilian colleagues guitarist Romero Lubambo and percussionist Cyro Baptista. The Robison-Lubambo-Baptista Trio also perfoms at the Cali (Colombia) International Festival in September of 2007.
In October of 2007 Paula Robison pays homage to her theatre heritage and takes the speaking part in performances of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire”, using her own translation into English.
She rejoins the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in December of 2007 for performances of JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and directs the Gardner Chamber Orchestra for another complete Brandenburg set in Boston.
Paula Robison’s historic recordings for Vanguard Classics are now being reissued. “The Art of Paula Robison’, a collection of favorite Vanguard recordings, is due to be released shortly on Pergola Recordings.
Ms. Robison has also recorded for Sony Classical, CBS Masterworks, Mode (the complete Berio Sequenzas), New World Records, King Records, Musical Heritage Society and Bridge Recordings (her Marlboro Festival performance of Schubert’s Introduction and Variations with Rudolf Serkin).
Her books on the art of flute playing are published by Universal Edition, Schott, European-American Music, and G. Schirmer.
In 2006 Paula Robison founded Pergola Recordings, an independent label. Coming up is an album of Live Performances with pianists Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yefim Bronfman, Timothy Hester, and percussionist Ayano Kataoka.
One of Ms. Robison’s favorite continuing projects is “With Art”: collaborations with visual artists in unusual spaces. In the fall of 2005, Ms. Robison--as Artist-in-Residence at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum-- initiated “Variations on a Theme”, a collaborative project with the great conceptual artist Sol LeWitt and curator Pieranna Cavalchini. On view in the Special Exhibition Gallery was a site-specific wall drawing with daily performances at random hours of Mozart’s works for flute.
In the Spring of 2006 she traveled to Jerusalem to create a new collaborative project with painter Jim Schantz and the Pucker Gallery of Boston, to be released in the fall of 2007. Other “With Art” projects have included Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza I” with Italian Art from the 1950s at PS 1 in New York, Toru Takemitsu’s “Itinerant”, in memory of Isamu Noguchi, at the Noguchi Garden Museum in New York, and a battle with Tim Hawkinson’s “UberOrgan” at MASS MoCA.
In the fall of 2005 Paula Robison rejoined the faculty of New England Conservatory as the first occupant of the newly-endowed Donna Hieken Flute Chair. Her Master Classes at the Diller Quaile School of Music in New York, open to professional players and advanced students from all over the world, is now entering its third season.
She plays a Brannen-Cooper flute and is a member of Red Sox Nation.
Paula Robison is married to Scott Nickrenz. Their daughter Elizabeth is a singer-songwriter and doctoral candidate in Human Development/Clinical Ethnography at the University of Chicago.
“A rare artist who can make the flute sound both sensuous and classically pure … An absolute wonder.”
The New York Times