Gerard Schwarz is Enjoying Life after the Seattle Symphony

United StatesUnited States Gerard Schwarz is Enjoying Life after the Seattle Symphony

There is, it would seem, life after stepping down from a 26-year music director’s post. Gerard Schwarz took his departure from the Seattle Symphony two years ago (though he is still associated with it as Conductor Laureate). That brief period has seen the release or reissue of more than 50 of his recordings. Some 49 of them, made with the Seattle Symphony, have appeared on the Naxos label, including three new recordings, respectively featuring music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Dvořák, and Hindemith, and a number that were originally released by Delos. Other Schwarz recordings added to his discography include his accounts of Mahler’s Third Symphony (with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra) and the first movement of the Tenth, a new recording of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and a Hovhaness collection on Delos titled “American Mystic.”

It’s hard to say which is more impressive, the breadth of Schwarz’s stylistic sympathies, or the sheer expertise and brilliance of many of these discs. Thirteen of the Naxos releases appear in the label’s “American Classics” series, and they include the conductor’s dedicated survey of Howard Hanson’s symphonies, as well as recordings of music by Stephen Albert, Morton Gould, Deems Taylor, and such living composers as Bright Sheng and Richard Danielpour. But the “Naxos Seattle Symphony Collection” is scarcely less attractive, especially in regard to a stunning account of the Bartók Concerto for Orchestra and some superb Schumann. In my investigation of these riches, two performances have stood out with particularly riveting vividness: Buckaroo Holiday, in Schwarz’s Rodeo recording, achieves a positively intoxicating sense of controlled chaos; and his performance of Hanson’s Fifth Symphony reveals this brooding hulk of a piece as one of the composer’s most arrestingly personal statements.

These activities in the CD field, however, are not by any means all that Schwarz has been engaged in. He has been busier than ever as a composer. And last August he brought together in New York the All-Star Orchestra, an assemblage of first-desk players and other outstanding instrumentalists from the finest American orchestras, for four days in which they recorded for television an extraordinary range of music, including Mahler’s Second Symphony, Schumann’s Third, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, Beethoven’s Fifth, Shostakovich’s Fifth, and Dvořák’s Ninth, together with works by Brahms, Ravel, Stravinsky, and some of the living composers Schwarz has tirelessly championed—Sheng, Zwilich, Stock, Beaser, Jones, Danielpour, Glass, Rands, Schwantner, and Thomas.

Professional orchestra musicians are not the most naive and impressionable people in the world, but to read the comments many All-Star members made after their sessions is to marvel at the impact Schwarz had on his experienced players. Concertmaster David Kim–who fills the same post at the Philadelphia Orchestra–observed: “The week that I spent with friends and colleagues as a member of the All-Star Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Gerard Schwarz was one of the most memorable musical and human experiences of my life. The level of music making was astonishing . . . It is certainly my privilege to be a part of such a worthwhile endeavor.” New York City Ballet Orchestra trumpet player Neil Balm said, “Every once in a while something comes along in your life that stops you in your tracks and gets you to take stock of what your purpose is. This is such a project.” “I am very humbled and truly honored to be a part of this amazing ensemble . . . Best musical experience of my career, hands down,” said National Symphony Orchestra timpanist Jauvon Gilliam. And there are numerous other comments in a similar vein.

These recorded performances, incidentally, are not intended to stand by themselves. They will be released on DVD by Naxos, but they also form part of the first eight programs in a comprehensive educational television series that Schwarz has dreamed up. It incorporates illustrative material, discussions, and interviews (full disclosure: this writer is among those interviewed) that aim to help bring classical music within the reach and the interest of many people so far unacquainted with it. The series is expected to air on PBS probably later this year.

Bernard Jacobson