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Robert Nairn Named Distinguished Professor of Music

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Rob Nairn with double bass

Robert Nairn has been named Distinguished Professor of Music by the Penn State Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Nairn is one of sixteen faculty members University-wide to receive the honor of Distinguished Professor in 2015. 

“I am really very honored to have been recognized by Penn State in this way, especially to be in the company of colleagues I greatly admire and whose work is so highly regarded in their professions. I feel sincerely humbled to be in their company,” said Nairn.

A double bassist, Nairn gives double bass lessons and teaches studio classes, bass ensembles, and orchestral excerpt classes. He also directs the Penn State Baroque Ensemble and coaches several chamber music groups. He has been guest principal bassist with the Halle Orchestra, the London Mozart Players, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and principal bassist with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. Nairn specializes in historical performance.

“Historical performance is the preparation of music from different eras in as close to a historically accurate manner as possible, using the instruments of the period and utilizing current research into performance practice, aesthetic and style,” explained Nairn. “It gives us an enormous insight, reveals new ways to look at music which is part of the traditional concert canon, and has also resulted in the rediscovery of a huge repertoire.”

Nairn has been principal bassist with Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society since 2003 and is a member of the new historical performance faculty at the Juilliard School in New York and a member of Juilliard Baroque. In 2009, he received a Recognition Award for Historical Performance from the International Society of Bassists.

A native of Australia, Nairn initially studied law/economics before switching to music. His route to double bass started with his interest in popular music and playing the electric bass in bands in college. He received his bachelor of music with distinction from the Canberra School of Music and a Diploma of Music from the Berlin Musikhochschule while the recipient of a two-year DAAD German Government Scholarship.

When asked why he decided to teach as well as perform, Nairn responded, “I have always loved to teach, before coming to Penn State in an adjunct capacity in Australia and London, and now as a career. Teaching music is part of a long historical tradition, and I was fortunate to study in Europe with some great teachers whose main goal, even as performers was to pass on that tradition.”

Nairn admits that he learns from his students during their sessions, explaining that they are always looking for new music publications and sharing the experience of playing music.

“I think one develops one’s ideas further and becomes a better teacher with experience, and I particularly enjoy the fresh approaches to repertoire that young minds bring. Studying this music with my graduate students is a great joint learning experience,” said Nairn.

Nairn recently finished a short, intense tour in Europe with the Boston Early Music Festival, a collection of singers and instrumentalists who are all historical performance specialists from Europe and the U.S. They were performing an obscure opera by Agostini Steffani called, Niobe, Regina di Tebe, in sold out shows at illustrious concert halls: Auditorio Nacional in Madrid, the Opera Royal in Versailles, The Concertbegouw in Amsterdam, and Theatre de Champs D’Elysee in Paris. The tour celebrated the release of their CD set, which they recorded last year in Bremen. While on tour, Nairn was also invited to give master classes at the Conservatory in Amsterdam and in Paris.

The special academic title of Distinguished Professor recognizes outstanding faculty for whom endowed chairs or professorships are otherwise unavailable. Faculty members named Distinguished Professors are full-time active members of the faculty holding the rank of Professor, are acknowledged leaders in their fields of research or creative activity, and demonstrate significant leadership in raising the standards of the University with respect to teaching, research or creative activity, and service.

For more information about Robert Nairn, visit his faculty profile: