When he was younger, Gerard Schwarz's mother told him she had dreams he would one day be the conductor of a major orchestra. He started playing piano as a kid and began playing the trumpet by age 8.
Schwarz went on to have a prolific career as a musician, composer and conductor. He played co-first trumpet in the New York Philharmonic, was the music conductor for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and oversaw major festivals from Mostly Mozart in New York to, most recently, the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina.
"Conductors are natural teachers. You’re teaching as you’re conducting," Schwarz told Sundial producer Chris Remington.
The maestro recently joined the Frost Music School faculty at the University of Miami and will be making his debut Saturday, Sept. 14, conducting the Frost Symphony Orchestra. He also recently took the post the new musical director for the Palm Beach Symphony.
"There’s vibrancy to life here [South Florida] that is quite extraordinary," he said. "I’m seeing there’s enthusiasm for the arts."
The performance will include a suite from the ballet "Estancia" by Alberto Ginastera, one of the greatest 20th century composers of the Americas, and Samuel Jones’ Concerto for Tuba. World-renowned conductor Schwarz joined Sundial to discuss his career and what makes South Florida a unique space in the classical world.
WLRN: As a trumpeter, what initially got you interested in the instrument?
SCHWARZ: Everyone who plays a musical instrument is drawn to it for a personal reason or because their parents made them. The mother says, "You must play the piano." When I was 5, my mother made me play the piano and my sisters and we played the piano. But my parents were from Austria. And they were very involved and committed to the arts. I would say, next to their medical practices, the arts were the most important thing in their lives. And they were doctors and they took us to the Philharmonic and they took us to the opera. We were very lucky. We lived just outside New York City.
They took us to see a movie called Aida. I heard those herald trumpets in the triumphal scene in the last act. And I was 7 and I said, "I want to play that." And my mother, who was a psychiatrist and who actually knew Freud, "So here's my son is going to be a whistle blower, playing the trumpet, forget it." ... She called me a whistle blower until I I got into the New York Philharmonic. What was fascinating is that when she tells a story, when she was pregnant with me, she had continuous dreams that I would be a conductor.
What are the differences that you see in audiences for classical performances?
South Florida for a long time was just snowbirds. But the area has grown so much that you don't have to wait for the winter. Well, here we are, Saturday night, we're giving our first concert — this is September. You know there are those people that think that you can't do any concerts in South Florida until January, cause there isn't anyone here. Well my wife and I live in Coral Gables and in our neighborhood every house is occupied by someone. They're not empty waiting for the weather the change. Now it doesn't mean that some people have homes there that live in Boston or Chicago or whatever but it has changed dramatically.
I do believe that we will make, over a period of time, tremendous impact with programming and with great soloists and and with great performances. I've always had this idea that the most important thing we can do as performers is to give great concerts. You give great concerts, that are moving and exciting, people will come and people will support you. If the concerts are not on a high level, why would they bother? You know, they could stay home or listen to a fine CD. And I feel that way, sometimes artists go into concerts, people say, "Oh what's wrong with the audience?" There's nothing wrong with the audience but on occasion there's something wrong with what's going on onstage. Just because you're playing Beethoven doesn't mean that you're going to move the audience.
You've been now doing this for so many years and you've seen how technology has changed the music scene. And so now, and this may be how you reach some of these audiences, now it's not just publishing your music. It's putting it up on Spotify, it's putting it up online and it's making sure you're on social media to connect with people. Do you like it? Do you like how things have changed?
Yes and no. I love connecting with people so I have a big Facebook presence, I do Facebook Live and I get you know 15 or 20,000 people on occasion. A discussion between me and other conductors and other soloists. And it's really it's fun for me and it's fun to be able to do that and and realize that you're going to reach however many thousands of people.