Robin Orr

August 27, 2010

Robert Kelmsley (Robin) Orr was born in Brechin on the 2 June 1909. His father was an organist and built an organ for his home, and the young Orr began his musical career on that.

He attended Loretto school in Musselburgh, and from there was accepted into the Royal Academy of Music in London. From there he moved to Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1929. In 1938 he had a brief period of tuition under Nadia Boulanger. After the war he became a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music in 1950.

In 1956 he became Gardiner Professor of Music at Glasgow University, and in 1962 became the first chairman of Scottish Opera, a position he held till 1976. He was given both a CBE by the Queen and an honorary doctorate from Glasgow University in 1972 . He was to oversee Scottish Opera’s move to the Theatre Royal in 1975.

His Symphony in One Movement was performed at the Proms by Alexander Gibson in 1966 and later recorded by the Scottish National Orchestra. Two more symphonies followed in 1971 and 1978.

Orr’s first opera Full Circle was written to a libretto in the Scots language by Sydney Goodsir Smith in 1968. Hermiston (1975, Edinburgh festival) with a libretto based on Robert Louis Stevenson by the Greenock screenwriter Bill Dryden and On the Razzle (1988 , RSAMD) followed.

Other works include the song-cycle The Book of Philip Sparrow in 1969 commissioned by New Glasgow Concerts and performed by the Scottish National Orchestra. He wrote Journeys and Places in 1971, a McEwan commission setting poems by Edwin Muir.

After marriage to his second wife who was Swiss, in his later years Orr moved to Switzerland. He composed his Sinfonietta Helvetica (1990) and became a dual Swiss national in 1995.

His autobiography Musical Chairs was published in 1998. He was also a keen rock climber and known gourmet; he had a column in the Glasgow Herald called Food and Drink. He died in April 9 2006.

Selected works :-
His Symphony in One Movement :
A Centenary Tribute featuring chamber works for strings :
Journey and Places and From the Book of Philip Sparrow :
His autobiography Musical Chairs :