Former Seattle Symphony Conductor Joins Frost Music Faculty
A stonecutter hammers a rock a hundred times without a chink but at the hundred first hit he splits it in two. It wasn’t the last blow that did it but the first hundred.
Or so the well-known quote goes, and for classical music observers South Florida is showing some promising cracks. From the success of the Mainly Mozart and Frost Chopin Festivals to Kaleidoscope MusArt’s out of the box programming and, of course, the relentless, mind-bending innovation of the New World Symphony, Miami’s classical musicians seem intent on placing an ensemble on every city corner.
Enter Conductor Laureate of the Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz who joins the Frost School of Music this Fall as Distinguished Professor of Music, Conducting and Orchestral Studies. An industry heavyweight, during his conducting career Schwarz has recorded over 350 albums, been nominated for 14 Grammys and awarded 8 ASCAPs. Great for Frost students, but what does he bring to the city?
Artburst recently caught up with Schwarz by phone in his Coral Gables office. When asked how his joining the Frost could catalyze the local music scene, Schwarz explained, “Hopefully just having me here will help – I have a certain amount of fame and I’m hoping that will make some people think, ‘Hey, Schwarz is there maybe we should go and check it out.’”
Bold claim but examine the facts. When Schwarz assumed the helm of the Seattle Symphony in 1985, yearly subscriptions languished at 5000. When he left in 2011 they topped 35,000 and the symphony was installed in a new state of the art, Chihuly-garnished performance hall.
After leaving the Seattle Symphony, Schwarz assembled the All-Star Orchestra, sourcing players from the nation’s leading orchestras. He convinced New York Public television to broadcast its concerts. The results? Seven Emmys and a team up with the online education mammoth, Khan Academy. To date his online music program teems with six million subscribers.
When asked why he pursued the position at the Frost, Schwarz replied, “I’m someone who values education. So I thought, why not? If I didn’t find the students enthusiastic or the leadership first class or the faculty great, then I wouldn’t be interested. But when I visited a year ago, I experienced some real synergy with everyone, and I thought, ‘This would be great!’”
However, for Schwarz classical music has to extend beyond the campus. The facts are sobering – the New York Times reports how just between 2010 and 2014 classical music concert attendance nationwide declined by 10%. “Speaking philosophically,” observed Schwarz, “we have to be sure that the larger community knows the things we are doing as a University – however we can do that.”
Growing audiences is part of the formula, but how do you convince the talented musicians the Frost trains to make Miami their home?
“Frost faculty and students are part of the fundamental musical community of Miami. What’s happened to Florida is that it is no longer only for snow birds,” reasoned Schwarz. “I think things down here are changing for the better with some of the students taking notice, and so they are staying and making music here.” Just as Schwarz himself did when he accepted a three year appointment in 2019 as music director with the Palm Beach Symphony.
But what made the University decide on Schwarz? Responding by email, Dean of the Frost School of Music, Shelly Berg confessed Schwarz’s appointment aims at adding a “new star to the South Florida firmament.” Schwarz ‘s track record of innovative pedagogy stretches from his program with the Khan Academy to his 15 year tenure as Music Director at the Eastern Music Festival where young musicians, ages 14 to 23, receive intensive summer music training. Concluded Berg, “Schwarz is a rare combination of world-class artist and pedagogue.”
Schwarz’s September 14th debut conducting the Frost Symphony Orchestra smacks of ambition – Alberto Ginastera’s ballet “Estancia”, Samuel Jones’s “Tuba Concerto” featuring Frost faculty tubist Aaron Tindall then closing with “Brahms’s Symphony No. 2.”
The evening’s program models the formula Schwarz promotes as best to introduce classical music to a new generation – the great repertoire of the past; the top 20th century works that need exposure; and new works.
Gerard Schwarz conducts the Frost Symphony Orchestra at the University of Miami’s Gusman Concert Hall (1314 Miller Dr, Coral Gables, FL 33146), Saturday, September 14th 2019, 7:30 p.m.
General admission and assigned seating begin at $20, seniors at $15. and students are $10 at door only for most concerts with I.D. required.
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