LSO Music Director, 1983-2017
“Electrifying…..the most exciting musical experiences I’ve had in eight years here. Period.” – Kansas City Star
“An outstanding conductor” – Times Call
“….considered one of the major American conductors” – Musique in Belgium
“A performance I shall long cherish” – American Record Guide
“Master of Mahler” – Daily Camera
Above is a sampling of reviews that Maestro Robert Olson has garnered. During his remarkable tenure, the orchestra grew to statewide prominence, featured regularly on KVOD’s “Spotlight on Colorado,” performing some of the repertoire’s most demanding music. The Longmont Symphony Orchestra grew steadily during that time, collecting rave reviews from critics all over the Front Range:
“Symphony gives beautiful interpretation of Brahms”
“Verdi’s Requiem remarkable”
“LSO offered a grand opening”
“…played as hauntingly as I have ever heard”
“Longmont boasts best Nutcracker”
In 1990, Olson moved to Kansas City where he assumed the position of Director of Orchestras/Opera at the Conservatory of Music, University of Missouri-Kansas City, taking the orchestral program to such heights that Scott Cantrell of the Dallas News said, “The orchestra plays with more finesse than that of the Eastman School of Music.” In 1992 he assumed the additional position of conductor for the Kansas City Ballet, a position he held for 14 years, conducting both the St. Louis and Kansas City Symphonies in over 600 performances.
Recognized internationally for his interpretation of Gustav Mahler, he founded Colorado MahlerFest, an annual festival held in Boulder celebrating the music of Mahler. Olson and the MahlerFest were featured in a full-page article in The New York Times, January 17, 2002, which stated: “He may be more steeped in the music of Mahler than any American alive.”
Beginning as a loyal manifestation of Mahlerian enthusiasm, it has been elevated to an internationally acclaimed event, and recognized as such with the awarding of the most coveted prize in the discipline, the Mahler Gold Medal. In September of 2005, MahlerFest Board President Stan Ruttenberg and Maestro Olson traveled to Vienna, Austria, to receive this prestigious and rarely given award from the international Gustav Mahler Society, sharing the stage with the New York Philharmonic as one of the recipients. The list of past recipients reads as a “Who’s Who” of the musical world: Leonard Bernstein, Claudio Abbado, the Vienna Philharmonic, and Dietrich Fischer-Diskau, to name a few.
Olson’s and the MahlerFest’s achievements are many: an Eighth Symphony “Symphony of a Thousand” reviews as “legendary” and “one of the best ever made”; a new performing edition of the Wheeler realization of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony recorded both by the MahlerFest and for Naxos Records with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (“It would be difficult to conceive a performance better shaped and conducted that what Olson offers here.”); a soon to be completed massive CD set of every work ever written by Mahler, all performed by the MahlerFest orchestra by one conductor; several international symposia featuring the world’s greatest Mahler scholars, and so on. Olson was also deeply moved on two different occasions by the presentation from the New York Mahler Society of a baton once owned by Mahler himself.
He has held conducting posts with the Omaha Symphony, Boulder Baroque Chamber Orchestra, the University of Colorado (opera and orchestra), Boulder Civic Opera, Arapahoe Chamber Orchestra, Arvada Chamber Orchestra, Rocky Ridge Music Festival Orchestra, and the Colorado Gilbert and Sullivan Festival.
Olson has an impressive list of guest conducting invitations, including the Miami City Ballet, the National Symphony of China in Beijing, the Karlovy Vary Symphony Orchestra in the Czech Republic (“the world’s oldest orchestra”), and the National Radio Orchestral of Milano, Italy. A recent performance with the Korean Symphony Orchestra in a nationally televised live concert resulted in first prize among the 10 competing orchestras. He has also received rave reviews in Bergamo, Italy, and Maraky, Venezuela, and has twice conducted in Belgium for the Festival d’Walloonie.
As a recipient of the coveted Fulbright Scholarship, Olson studied with the legendary pedagogue Hans Swarovsky of the Vienna Philharmonic, and well-known conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Georg Solti, Andre Previn and Herbert Blomstedt.
He has degrees from Northern Illinois University, Michigan State University, and his doctorate from the University of Washington. Twice the University of Missouri-Kansas city has honored him as a “Faculty Fellow.”
As an internationally recognized bassoonist, Olson has performed in Europe, Japan and the United States. He performed at the 1990 Vienna International Music Festival and has recorded for the Czechoslovakian Radio.
Olson is married to violist Victoria and has two beautiful children, Tori, who has played second bassoon with the LSO for the July 4th concerts, and recently performed as soloist with the LSO; and Chelsea who has played viola with the LSO.