The music critic for CVNC, Jeffrey Rossman wrote, “Mr. Robinson, in a sense, is a modern day Dvořák. Known as “Mr. CutTime,” this Detroit Symphony bassist is a passionate advocate for classical music and musicians stepping down from the pedestal of the concert hall and merging into the musical life of the community: schools, clubs, bars, coffeehouses…basically anywhere where people congregate. This is far from a new concept, but Robinson’s personality, aggressive advocacy of this, and his remarkable playing, composing and arranging skills put him in the forefront of this movement.”
Kresge Artist Fellow Rick Robinson is a true cultural pioneer. Born into a fourth-gen, African-American musical family of Detroit, this quiet bassist ever chose the road-less-traveled to perform, arrange, compose and direct masterfully, both within and on the fringe of the classical music industry. He eventually began challenging the status quo with powerful adaptations of this adventurous music to invite on-board the wider, casual community, to sustain the classical tradition by building a new one.
Robinson is beating a new path, a musical revolution called Club Classical.
Only recently emerging as a composer, Robinson began by playing cello, then bass, in the Detroit suburb of Highland Park. His mother, a school psychologist, sang and played classical piano daily. His older siblings enjoyed learning violin and cello in public schools. His father, a university administrator, learned guitar and sang with a strong voice, often leading others in folk song. While in high school, his older brother began transcribing popular music off the radio. Was this the seed for the younger to become adaptive later?
Opportunities came to Rick Robinson after attending two summers at Interlochen. Scholarships to attend their high school, the Interlochen Arts Academy led to his first solo recitals, concerto competition and orchestra leadership. Here he studied double bass with R. Park Carmen and Jeff Bradetich, graduating in 1981. While an undergraduate at the Cleveland Institute of Music, he studied with The Cleveland Orchestra’s principal Lawrence Angell and won several principal positions in the Akron and Canton (OH) symphony orchestras, as well as at the international Spoleto and Aspen Music Festivals where he also tried busking on the street, learning perseverance and flexibility.
Robinson next went to Boston to study bass with Boston Symphony’s Lawrence Wolfe at the New England Conservatory. He won principal bass of the Portland (ME) Symphony Orchestra and assistant principal of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra with composer John Williams. An ambitious solo recitalist, Robinson began adapting solo works from other instruments. In 1987 he won the Haddonfield (NJ) Symphony concerto competition playing the Bottesini Concerto No. 2.
Robinson became a regular substitute for both the Boston and Detroit symphony orchestras when, on a 1989 European tour with the latter ensemble, he was suddenly invited to full membership to resolve a political demand by two Michigan state legislators for more African-Americans members. While affirmative action controversies raged across the nation, Robinson calmly explored his new calling to build bridges between the orchestra universe and the wider Detroit community, ultimately teaching himself to compose neo-romantic works, some of which fuse black and Latino musical vernacular powerfully with classical models.
Following the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) premiere in 2006 of his “accidental” symphonic score Essay (After Sibelius), Detroit Free Press music critic Mark Stryker called Robinson “an armchair composer with promise and a taste for fleshy romantic textures and orchestration.” He won a Kresge Artist Fellowship for composition in 2010.
The CutTime® artistic project is the complete expression of that calling, creating two unique outreach ensembles, a club classical series, and a vast catalog of symphonic reductions and new works that form an emotional on-ramp into classical for newcomers. After 22 years he began resigning his DSO position to work nationally, molding classical, esp. the symphony, around popular culture with personality, deep insights, effective analogies, historic overview, guest artists and audience activities.
In response to the question why, Robinson responded,
Classical music means a lot more when we share the why and how of it with new people. The average American today enjoys all kinds of music, but doesn’t know why or how to approach instrumental music. Classical doesn’t have the immediate, personal context that a singer and a band can bring. And a lecture doesn’t really bridge this expectation. It is up to the musicians to set a new context for classical; to make sure the spirit, beauty and risk of classical are most apparent and compelling— because everyone deserves beauty and beauty deserves everyone.
Robinson originally developed CutTime ensembles, their catalog and compositions to become new arms for the Detroit Symphony to embrace its various communities. Now he brings the perspective of the anomalous African-American, major-orchestra veteran to bear on truly diversifying classical audiences, ready to bend and break classical tradition to serve humanity the benefits.
As an inspiration to professional and student musicians, Mr. CutTime has performed residencies with the Hot Springs Music Festival, Eastman School of Music, Mallarme Chamber Players, Gateways Music Festival, Lake George Music Festival and soon the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in 2015.
Robinson enjoys cycling and sailing, and speaks some German and Spanish.