Dr. Robert Tomaro

Facing the Music

Dr. Robert Tomaro’s life path was forever altered by jazz legend Django Reinhardt.

“I was determined to be a working actor,” says Tomaro. “I had just graduated from the theater program at Northwestern University when someone played me one of Django’s records.”

Tomaro quickly changed his tune.

“I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to play like that,” he recalls.

What followed was an eight-year musical journey, playing with his quintet in various jazz clubs in Chicago.

“I studied guitar with the great Jack Cecchini and with Joe Daley, a wonderful saxophone player,” says Tomaro. “Then I packed up and went back to New York to be an actor.”

Back in New York, Tomaro got to work finishing a doctorate program at New York University (NYU) when a professor recommended a conducting course. The class inspired Tomaro to audition for, and win, an assistant conductor position with the NYU Symphony.

“That was what put me on the road to symphonic conducting,” he says.

Through it all, Tomaro never lost his love for playing guitar. Now in his 24th year as music director of the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra (BJSO), Tomaro still occasionally takes the stage with the musicians instead of standing on a podium.

“I find that it balances me out,” he says. “I have a classical side and a contemporary side.”

Tomaro has played on Broadway under a number of conductors, including Paul Gemignani, Steven Sondheim’s preferred conductor. It was here that his conducting technique solidified.

“I started to learn what good and bad conducting looked like,” Tomaro says. “I’m not just conducting for the violins huddled around my podium, but also for the percussion section, 40 feet away.”

In 1999, Tomaro secured his current position in Beloit. The title has only been held by two other maestros since the symphony’s debut in 1953.

“I think that it says a lot about the wonderful culture here that a symphony in its 70th year has only had three maestros,” says Tomaro.

Since his arrival, Tomaro has created a number of beloved symphony traditions, including a holiday production of the Nutcracker ballet and the symphony’s yearly fundraiser. This season, Tomaro leads the BJSO on a rousing and interactive salute to Broadway.

“I learn something new every 5 minutes when I conduct,” he says. “When you alter the gesture, you alter the sound. It’s a living process.”