Hired without audition as only the 2nd African-American member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) in 1989, the solo bassist, arranger, composer and founder of CutTime Productions Rick Robinson (aka Mr. CutTime) began to update the standards of community engagement and education. This is how he came to launch CutTime® to adapt symphonic music both inside the arts bubble and out, as an ambitious mission-enterprise, creating broader access to and appreciation of this magical art form with next-gen entres. Robinson adopts an ancient theory of mind about communities outside the arts bubbles, to articulate why and how to reveal key information that develops active listening and immediate connection.
The music critic for CVNC, Jeffrey Rossman wrote, “Mr. Robinson, in a sense, is a modern day Dvořák. Known as “Mr. CutTime,” this Detroit Symphony bassist is a passionate advocate for classical music and musicians stepping down from the pedestal of the concert hall and merging into the musical life of the community: schools, clubs, bars, coffeehouses…basically anywhere where people congregate. This is far from a new concept, but Robinson’s personality, aggressive advocacy of this, and his remarkable playing, composing and arranging skills put him in the forefront of this movement.”
Only emerging as a composer in 2006, Robinson goes back to playing cello, then bass, in the public schools of Detroit’s famous inner suburb of Highland Park. His mother, a school psychologist, sang and played classical piano at home daily. His father, a university recruiter, sang with a powerful baritone and learned guitar to lead a room into folk songs.
His older siblings enjoyed learning violin, cello, bass and sax in public schools. The eldest David began copying out popular music from the radio for his high school band. These were the seeds for Robinson to excel early on, travel the world, return to Detroit quite famously and become adaptive during his unusual career.
Early opportunities began after attending two summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Then, scholarships to attend their high school, Interlochen Arts Academy, brought him his first private lessons, solo recitals, concerto competitions and orchestra leadership. He studied bass with R. Park Carmen and Jeff Bradetich before graduating. While at the Cleveland Institute of Music, he studied with the Cleveland Orchestra’s Principal Bass Larry Angell, and won principal positions in the two regional symphony orchestras of Akron and Canton (OH). In summers he won principal positions in both the international Spoleto and Aspen Music Festivals. At Aspen he tried busking solos and duets on the street; learning survival and networking skills.
Robinson then went to Boston to study with the symphony assistant Larry Wolfe at the New England Conservatory. There Robinson won principal of the Portland (ME) Symphony and assistant of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, then directed by legendary Star Wars composer John Williams. An ambitious solo recitalist, Robinson began adapting solo works from other instruments and in 1987 he won the Haddonfield (NJ) Symphony Concerto Competition playing Bottesini’s Concerto No. 2.
In 1987 Robinson became a regular sub for both Boston and Detroit Symphony Orchestras. During a 1989 European tour with Detroit (DSO), he was suddenly elected to full membership to resolve a political demand by two Michigan state legislators for more African-Americans members. While affirmative action controversies raged around him, Robinson calmly assumed a new calling to reach outside Orchestra Hall, launching CutTime Players with eight DSO musicians in 1994.
After a prophetic dream in 1999, Robinson began composing his “accidental” symphonic score Essay No. 1 (After Sibelius), which DSO read in 2003 and chose to premiere in 2006. Subsequently Detroit Free Press music critic Mark Stryker called Robinson “an armchair composer with promise and a taste for fleshy romantic textures and orchestration.” Resolving to compose then with more intention, by 2009 he composed another dozen works, half of which seamlessly blend familiar urban dance grooves and popular references with almost Brahmsian counterpoint. With these works he launched CutTime Simfonica before winning a Kresge Artist Fellowship in 2010.
That same year, while the DSO Musicians settled into a 6-month labor strike, Robinson learned about the Classical Revolution movement that began in San Francisco in 2006. They casually perform or read classical chamber music in bars, clubs and cafes. Organizing the Detroit chapter, Robinson began placing symphonic music where it never was before. CutTime’s mission locked into place; we choose to connect, discover, inspire and serve our common humanity through this special music.
CutTime is the complete expression of that choice, offering two unique outreach ensembles, a pop-up club classical series, a large catalog of hit symphonic reductions, popular works, effective metaphors and an imagination for making easy and compelling stories of the classical arts. After 22 years he began resigning his DSO position in 2012 to seek national partners for growth.
Detroit Free Press Music Critic Mark Stryker recently wrote, “Robinson has been an innovative force in bringing chamber ensembles into non-traditional venues and classrooms, mixing it up with a variety of creative repertoire and generally proving that classical music belongs not on the fringes of contemporary culture but at the heart of everyday life”.
In response to the question why, Robinson responded,
Classical music makes me feel so very rich and I want to share the treasure outside the family. Sharing is a natural extension to being an artist. It’s like a diamond with many facets to look inside; there are many ways to serve the same beliefs.
Rick Robinson, who has performed with many of the world’s leading conductors, soloists and composers, originally developed CutTime ensembles, their catalog and compositions to become new arms for the Detroit Symphony to embrace its surrounding communities. Now he shares the matured mission nationally, bending the classical model to better serve humanity its own legacy via radical empathy, inspired by such leaders as Thich Nhat Hanh, his father David E. Robinson II and the conductor Thomas Wilkins.
Robinson was hailed by Crain’s Detroit Business as a social entrepreneur in 2013, adding that he ”is bringing classical music to the masses— which may be one of the most challenging jobs in all of music.” That year Robinson won an Arts Challenge Grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to expand the popular club series, Classical Revolution Detroit, now in its 6th year.
Now known as Mr. CutTime, he has performed residencies and seminars with the Hot Springs Music Festival, Eastman School of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music, Mallarme Chamber Players, Gateways Music Festival, Lake George Music Festival and River Oaks Chamber Orchestra. He has presented his ideas to the League of American Orchestras, the New York State Council for the Arts, SphinxCon and NPR.
Robinson enjoys road cycling, sailing and reading. He speaks some German and Spanish.