Meet the SFS Musicians: Principal Keyboards Robin Sutherland

SFS Principal Keyboards Robin Sutherland looks back on his San Francisco journey.

Robin Sutherland

Principal Keyboards, Jean & Bill Lane Chair
SFS member since: 1973
Hometown: Denver, CO
School: Juilliard, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, University of Hawaii

A San Francisco Life:
Growing up among the feedlots and grain silos of the westernmost Colorado plains, I had to develop some escapes, one of which was the life and works of Oscar Wilde. He observed, "It's an odd thing, but everyone who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful city, possessing all the attractions of the next world."

When it came time to "disappear" from Juilliard, I had Oscar in mind when I made overtures to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in the spring of 1972. I hadn't been there long at all before the San Francisco Symphony showed up hunting for a piano player, and they found me.

San Francisco Symphony keyboardist Robin SutherlandRobin Sutherland onstage at Davies Symphony Hall.

The story is this: Mack McCray was on the piano faculty at the Conservatory and he was scheduled to play Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 1 with the SFS, but fell ill. The SFS made an urgent call to Milton Salkind, then president of the Conservatory, for a substitute. I happened to be standing in the hall outside Salkind’s office, reading a letter from my mother, when suddenly, a door flung open and Salkind stuck his head out—I was the only one there. As it happened, I knew the piece. The gig went well and the Symphony began to call me for other performances. Later, I was asked to go on tour with the SFS and Seiji Ozawa to play the solo in the Ives Fourth Symphony, and it was a big success. Ozawa was the one who first appointed me to the position, and I’ve been on board ever since—I lead a section of one. This is the only job I’ve ever had and my resume consists of one line!

I'm not sure how much of the farm I'm willing to bet on the next world being an actual thing, but as far as this world goes, I have to give props to Oscar Wilde for his take on the delights of San Francisco. I get to be in regular communication with many of the world's finest musicians, and the world's finest people. It turns out that often they are one and the same.

One thing Oscar failed to note is how enticingly close San Francisco is to the Hawaiian Islands. The French call this lagniappe. I call it gravy.

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