When he arrived as musical director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 1967, Shaw set out to turn Atlanta’s part-time orchestra into a full-time one. He added thirty-three players and founded the symphony’s chamber and orchestra choruses. A micromanager, Shaw coaxed nuance from each syllable and, taking cues from his minister father, lectured his singers on the spiritual depths of text. His insistence on performances that mingled Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven with avant-garde twentieth-century composers rankled ASO board members, who tried to oust him in 1972. (An outcry from ticket holders, who said they’d subscribe only if Shaw conducted, changed their minds.) Shaw’s direction earned the orchestra six Grammy Awards before he retired in 1988—plus nine more Grammys for his subsequent recordings as music director emeritus and conductor laureate, a post he held until he died of a stroke while visiting his son at Yale.
Before Rachel, Finn, and Mr. Schu Shaw’s talents emerged when he took over direction of the glee club as a freshman at Pomona College in California.
Vintage Wheels In the late 1970s and early 1980s, while members of the ASO toured in buses, Shaw drove to concerts in a 1955 Rolls Bentley.
Next to Godliness Shaw was obsessive about cleanliness, often taking six or seven showers a day.
Chairman of the Board Shaw encouraged his choral singers to listen and learn from Frank Sinatra, whose phrasing he found exquisite.
Photograph courtesy of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra