San Francisco Symphony mourns pianist, 69

San Francisco Symphony mourns pianist, 69


norman lebrecht

December 19, 2020

The San Francisco Symphony announces the passing of former longtime Principal Keyboards Robin Sutherland, a member of the orchestra for 46 years.

He was appointed as a student by Seiji Ozawa in 1974.

‘Robin Sutherland was an explorer of life and music,’ said San Francisco Symphony Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas. ‘Decades of Symphony goers heard his magnificent piano performances. But there was lots more to him. He effortlessly combined elegant virtuosity, championship of new music, ideal chamber music performances, and inspiring teaching. He was a master of the French and Hawaiian languages. It was amazing to see him in Hawaii; his complete ease with the culture and his long blond ponytail, hanging down over his Juilliard warmup jacket, made him just as much of a standout on Kauai’s bluffs as in Davies Symphony Hall. He was a great wit and storyteller, a treasure trove of esoteric knowledge, amusing anecdotes, and outrageous jokes. He was an original and pioneering gay man who was a constant friend and artistic role model for generations. We will all miss him greatly.’


  • esfir ross says:

    Wonderful pianist, pupil of Rosinna Lhevinne. Best pianist in Bay area. New him personal and attend his wonderful performances. RIP

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Don’t forget Garrick Ohlsson. He’s pretty darn good as well. Regardless, this is a great loss for the S.F. musical community.

  • Patricia says:

    Pioneering ‘gay man.’ What has that to do with how well he played the piano? But coming from MTT, I guess that is to be expected.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Robin was a classmate of mine at SF Conservatory, where he studied there (I believe) with Paul Hersh, another excellent Bay Area pianist. I did not know, as per Esfir Ross, that he studied with Rosina Lhevinne as well.
    Robin was a sweet guy, full of energy, and it did not surprise me in the least when Ozawa virtually plucked him out of the classroom to play in the SF Symphony as their keyboardist. He was a brilliant player.
    And he was one of those guys in the orchestra who, without being front and center, was recognized and appreciated by decades worth of regular symphonygoers.
    See ya on the other side, Robin….

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Only met him once when I was auditioning for the SFS and he accompanied me in the final round. He put me at ease and followed me like a glove. One can tell when one is making music with someone special within the first minute and that was my short experience.

  • arnie says:

    Anybody in the Bay area remember a pianist/teacher Julian White?

    • Indeed I do. I studied with him for three or four years in the late 70s, and shared the stage for a performance of Prokofiev 3rd at one point. A marvelous teacher and a big thinker.

      • Arnie says:

        Hi Peter Rubardt,
        I knew Julian quite well when he was at Juilliard. He, along w/ a few other pianists, were the music part of our “arty” group consisting of pianists, painters, students, poets, writers,etc. all of us living on the upper west side of Manhattan in the mid-late 1950′- early 60’s. Along w/ his being a “big thinker” he had a hilariously wicked sense of humor. I last saw him in the late 70’s when I spent a week end at his place in Berkley and we hung out at the Vesuvio in North Beach.

    • Lois says:

      Yes, spouse Bernie and other friends got him Beckstein piano.

  • Kathleen King says:

    A loss. RIP.

  • Nishon Soogian says:

    He was amazing, Nishon Soogian Sound engineer SFS .