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Orchestra head finds music in administration


Anyone foolish enough to think that classical music is the exclusive province of aging men and elderly, blue-haired ladies would do well to meet Tonya Robles, the newly appointed executive director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

The talented, energetic Robles - who is all of 29 years old - comes to the orchestra with a neatly crafted resume chock-full of diverse musical experiences.

An easy choice

While a voice student at Baltimore's Peabody Institute, she interned with the Baltimore Symphony's administrative staff and, almost immediately, found her professional niche.

"I loved administration from the very beginning," she recalls. "I thought of all the preparation for auditions a career in voice would entail and decided that helping to run an orchestra would be much more exciting.

"Besides," she says with a laugh, "everybody knows that instrumentalists are much easier to deal with than temperamental singers."

As a result of her internship, Robles, a North Carolina native who attended high school in Frederick, won a full-time position as the BSO's director of educational programming. Later, she would serve in a similar capacity with the San Antonio Symphony. For the past three years, Robles has taught music at a Defense Department school in Spain where her husband, Michael, a Naval Academy graduate, completed a tour of duty as a flight officer at the naval base there.

Now, as her husband's career returns him to the Academy, where he will teach classes in Naval Leadership, Robles is settling in for what she hopes will be a long, productive stint at the ASO's administrative helm.

"The only real contact I had with the orchestra until now were the concerts I attended here when my husband and I were dating," she says, "but I certainly feel a real bond with the city and with the ASO. It's amazing what this orchestra is already doing with the limited resources it has in a town this size. 'The Little Orchestra That Could': That would be a great description for us."

Reaching out

Robles, who was hired in June but has been on the job for just two weeks, is especially thrilled to be working with an orchestra that places a premium on education and outreach.

"Music is such an important part of education in Europe, while in this country we have to justify our existence every minute," she laments. "Many orchestras reach out to the community pretty reluctantly, but not ours. When I spoke to [ASO conductor] Leslie Dunner the other day, he was telling me, 'I want to visit this school, and this school and that school,' with such excitement, I nearly dropped the phone!"

Pamela Chaconas, the ASO's education director who became friendly with Robles in arts administration circles before the latter's hiring in Annapolis, said, "It's like I've died and gone to heaven. Both my conductor and my executive director feel as strongly about education as I do. Tonya is a wonderful person who's going to do a fantastic job."

As she takes on the job, Robles sees her youth as an advantage.

"I'm still naive enough to believe we can do anything we set our minds to," she says. "There's no burnout. I'm way too young to have become a cynic yet."

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