Maestro Gerard Schwarz addressed an audience of aspiring musicians on Monday night, his gravelly New York accent reverberating in the lofty sanctuary of First Free Methodist Church. His presentation marked the final installment of SPU’s “Futures in Music” lecture series.
After graduating from the Juilliard School, Schwarz worked as the principal trumpet player for the New York Philharmonic until the early ‘80s, when he founded the Mostly Mozart Festival, which still runs in New York City. He served as conductor laureate of the Seattle Symphony 1985–2011.
Among his many achievements are 350 recordings, 300 world premieres, 13 Grammy nominations and 3 Emmy nominations, two of which resulted in awards.
Schwarz shared some of the lessons he learned in his directing career, which began just out of high school. At the age of 17, Schwarz joined one of the top brass quartets in the nation. The lack of hierarchy in the group caused a great deal of conflict. Negotiating this diverse personality group gave Schwarz his first taste of leadership.
In 1985, Schwarz took on the role of director of the then-humble Seattle Symphony.
“I wanted to find a place that wanted greatness,” Schwarz said. “And that was here.” Upon arrival, he told the musicians they had the ability to make the Seattle Symphony great.
“[I said] ‘Look, if we really work hard and we really play great and play wonderful concerts, the whole atmosphere will change here,’ ” Schwarz said.
It took longer than he expected, but eventually, Schwarz led the orchestra to the prestigious status it holds today.
To aspiring musicians, Schwarz offered a few pieces of advice.
“You have to be part of the whole picture,” Schwarz said. “You have to be in television, you have to be hard working, have to have a positive attitude and you have to be willing to do anything.”
Schwarz placed emphasis on the final two points.
“No matter what you do, you smile, and you say, ‘Yes,’ ” Schwarz said. “Be a yes person.”
In terms of music, Schwarz encouraged students to value passion over technique.
“Just think about the music,” Schwarz said. “Think about what you’re trying to communicate, and it will be fine.”
Schwarz spoke about the current challenges facing classical music in America, claiming that only 3–5 percent of Americans attend classical concerts. He attributed the meager patronage to a lack of exposure and the high cost of concert tickets.
“We really want to do it for you, for the audience,” Schwarz said.
Wanting to increase the American classical music audience, Schwarz created a television program called The All-Star Orchestra, which features symphonic performances and educational analysis.
“I think it’s going to have a huge effect on growing an audience for classical music,” Schwarz said.
The All-Star Orchestra members originate from 30 orchestras and include 13 concert masters. In keeping with their goal of total accessibility, every episode of The All-Star Orchestra is available for free streaming at thirteen.org.
However, Schwarz stressed that the show is only intended to generate interest for live performances.
“It should be free,” Schwarz said. “But it shouldn’t replace concerts.”
Additionally, Schwarz is working with Khan Academy to create an online library of educational videos on basic music literacy. Although some might be surprised to find such an acclaimed musician devoting himself to such rudimentary material, Schwarz finds it refreshing.
“I’m loving it,” Schwarz said. “I’m having a ball.”
The process of developing the video series eventually led the Juilliard graduate to purchase a copy of Music Theory for Dummies.
“It’s a life of education,” Schwarz said. “You just keep learning, and you learn, and you learn.”