Richard Robinson, 93: ASO violinist blazed trail in electronic music

On a sunny Sunday afternoon last March, a small crowd gathered at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia for a concert by Dick Robinson.

At the audience’s insistence, Robinson, an early pioneer in electronic and electroacoustic music, kept the concert going through a scheduled intermission.

At 92, Robinson’s passion for music “never seemed to decrease,” said Don Hassler, a friend of 30-plus years. “It only seemed to increase.”

Richard “Dick” Allan Robinson, composer, longtime Atlanta Symphony Orchestra violinist and electronic music pioneer, died Jan. 23 at age 93.

He had a lifelong passion for music, possibly inspired by his mother, Anna Isham Robinson, an accomplished pianist who opted for a career in medicine alongside Robinson’s father, Dean.

Dick Robinson was born July 12, 1923 in Chicago, a city with a vibrant arts community, and exposed to the work of great visual artists through the Art Institute of Chicago.

He missed serving in World War II, falling one inch short of the military’s height requirements, and began studying mechanical engineering. He gave that up after two years, deciding on a career with the violin, an instrument he had played since he was 12.

After earning master’s degrees in composition and violin at Chicago’s American Conservatory, Robinson moved to Atlanta in 1951 to work with the ASO.

Throughout his 35 years with the orchestra, he composed music.

“It was something I had to do. I had no choice,” he once said.

Robinson was given summers off during Robert Shaw’s tenure as ASO conductor so he could work on his compositions full-time.

He was an electronic-music pioneer decades before the development of computer music software.

In 1965, he attended a workshop given by synthesis pioneer Robert Moog in New York, which sparked in him a creative shift and inspired him to open the Atlanta Electronic Music Center.

His electroacoustic compositions have been performed in Atlanta galleries, as well as across the United States and in Europe. His piece “Ambience” won Dartmouth’s 1969 International Electronic Music Competition.

“Dick’s revolutionary compositions challenge listeners to rethink the function and nature of music,” said Jo Lynn Sancomb, his friend for 35 years. “His musical legacy is significant, as well as his personal legacy of humor, wisdom and kindness.”

Longtime colleague and composer Howard Wershil said Robinson was “an outstanding composer, a good friend and a great inspiration to us all.

“For me, he was a particularly kindred musical spirit whose breadth of knowledge, force of talent and sense of humor I always enjoyed,” Wershil told ArtsATL.

In an interview in 2012, Robinson said he had always improvised and, since the 1970s, had collaborated “without the thought of anything more than having fun.”

Hassler said composing was Robinson’s primary interest, although he also liked improvisation.

“You don’t’ see a lot of classically trained musicians who are also equally interested in composition — even less that are interested in improvisation,” he said. “It’s very rare.”

Robinson was still composing and teaching himself new computer languages up until July, when he had a stroke, Hassler said.

He said the concert in March, which he attended, was Robinson’s last public performance.

Those who knew Robinson will remember him, not just for his talents, but also for his sense of humor, his kindness and love of nature, Hassler and Sancomb said.

Robinson’s wife, the artist Lucy Stovall, died in 2014. Her print and wood sculpture was exhibited in gallery settings and at events presenting Robinson’s electroacoustic music. The two recorded violin duets and married in 2005.

Robinson’s survivors include his nephews, Russell Robinson and David Robinson.