The man with the baton

Five Takeaways From a Talk With Acclaimed Conductor Gerard Schwarz

Schwarz will guest-conduct three performances of music by Strauss, Mozart and Dvořák with the Sarasota Orchestra Nov. 8-10.

By Olivia Epstein October 31, 2019

Gerard Schwarz

Internationally acclaimed conductor Gerard Schwarz is coming to Sarasota to guest-conduct three performances with the Sarasota Orchestra Nov. 8-10. Schwarz currently works as the artistic and music director of the Palm Beach Symphony, is a distinguished professor of music at The Frost School of Music, the music director of the All-Star Orchestra, the music director of the Eastern Music Festival and the conductor laureate of the Seattle Symphony. Working with some of the world's top orchestras, he has recorded more than 350 albums.

I had the rare opportunity to speak with maestro Schwarz to discuss his upcoming trip to Sarasota. I was nervous to speak with him, since I knew very little about him and what he does, so I started the interview saying just that. He laughed and asked if I would like for him to start at the beginning of his journey to becoming the renowned conductor he is today. I took him up on that offer, and what was meant to be a relatively formal interview turned into an enjoyable conversation covering all things conducting, the weather in Florida and the potential for Sarasota to expand upon its already formidable cultural offerings.

Here are five takeaways from my conversation with maestro Gerard Schwarz:

  • After nearly five decades as an internationally celebrated conductor, he still gets excited about the little things. Schwarz has received seven Emmy Awards, 14 Grammy nominations and has a street named after him in Seattle. But he really perked up when discussing the weather during his upcoming weekend in Sarasota. “Compared to Seattle or New York..." he says, "let’s just say that for more than one reason it’s my pleasure to come down.”
  • Guest-conducting can be a refreshing change of pace. “As incredible as it is to be the main conductor for the Seattle Symphony, guest-conducting is a completely different experience,” says Schwarz. “There are no logistics to worry about and I get to work with new people and contribute to what would already be a wonderful performance.”
  • His performances with the Sarasota Orchestra will include some great music. Schwarz will conduct the orchestra in a performance of Strauss' Don Juan, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 and Dvořák's Symphony No. 6. Schwarz says he is thrilled to conduct such iconic pieces, because he ordinarily conducts lesser-known works. “It’s something different for me, which only adds to my excitement,” he says.
  • He gives kudos to Sarasota for being a city that recognizes the arts. Schwarz understands the rarity of a small American city like Sarasota having a professional symphony, opera and ballet. His home city, Seattle, boasts the same, and Schwarz believes deeply in the importance of appreciating and funding the arts. “It completely changes the tone of a city,” he says. “If it’s there and people have access to it, they go.” Plus, it’s more fun for conductors like Schwarz to visit cities where he knows there will be an enthusiastic audience who will appreciate the performance.
  • The future is bright for the Sarasota Orchestra. For someone who doesn't live here, Schwarz sure has been keeping close tabs on happenings around town. He says the possibility of a new concert hall for the Sarasota Orchestra will be beneficial, not only for the orchestra, but for the audience. “Specific acoustics, seating, parking and everything in between can make or break an experience at the symphony,” he says. According to Schwarz, a new building will only emphasize the importance of the orchestra to Sarasota and lead to continued cultural growth.

Maestro Gerard Schwarz is guest-conducting three performances with the Sarasota Orchestra Nov. 8-10 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets can be purchased on the orchestra's website.

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