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Internationally recognized for his moving performances, innovative programming and an extensive catalogue of recordings, American conductor Gerard Schwarz serves as music director of the All Star Orchestra, an ensemble comprised of musicians from America's leading orchestras who will collaborate in a public television series designed to encourage a greater understanding and enjoyment of classical music. Schwarz is also music director of the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina and Jack Benaroya conductor laureate of the Seattle Symphony. The conductor is a renowned interpreter of 19th Century German, Austrian and Russian repertoire, in addition to his noted work with contemporary American composers.
With more than 300 world premieres to his credit, Schwarz has always felt strongly about commissioning and performing new music. As music director of the Eastern Music Festival, he has developed its focus on contemporary music by programming nine world premieres for the festival's 50th anniversary season and leading a world premiere of his own work during the summer of 2012. The festival, one of this country’s foremost training programs for young musicians, brings together world-renowned artists and exceptionally gifted young musicians from across the United States. Accomplishments during Schwarz’s tenure include expanding the festival's audiences to the largest in its history, incorporating a composer in residence program, developing three new concert series and increasing collaboration with the Appalachian Summer Festival, where he serves as artistic partner for symphonic music programming.
A prolific recording artist, Schwarz’s total discography numbers nearly 350 on labels such as Naxos, Delos, EMI, Koch, New World, Nonesuch, Reference Recording, RLPO Classics, Columbia/Sony and RCA. His pioneering cycles of American symphonists such as William Schuman, David Diamond and Howard Hanson have received high critical praise, as have his acclaimed series of Stravinsky ballets, symphony cycles of Robert Schumann, Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich, and orchestral works of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Rimsky-Korsakov. More than 50 discs featuring Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony – with works by 54 composers ranging from the Baroque to contemporary periods – will be released in 2012 and 2013 on Naxos, Delos, Artek and Brilliance Audio. Representing the breadth and depth of the conductor’s vast repertoire, the recordings vary in genre, including major twentieth-century ballets by composers Stravinsky, Strauss, Bartók, Ravel and Prokofiev, as well as multi-disc cycles of works by Schumann, Strauss, Wagner and Stravinsky. Schwarz’s dedication to the promotion of American music is also represented, with recordings featuring the works of 26 American composers. The Hanson cycle, first released on Delos, was a mainstay on Billboard’s classical music best-selling list for 41 weeks, including six weeks at number three, earned Grammy nominations, and was named 1989 Record of the Year by Stereo Review. The new Russian series on Naxos has been acclaimed as “a high point in the extensive Schwarz/Seattle discography” (Classics Today), “very fine” (The Guardian) and “a powerhouse in Russian Romantic repertoire” (Music Web International). In addition to his numerous recordings with the Seattle Symphony, he has also recorded with the Berlin Radio Symphony, Czech Philharmonic, English Chamber Orchestra, Juilliard Orchestra, London Symphony, Los Angeles Chamber Symphony, New York Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Philadelphia Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Tokyo Philharmonic.
The maestro’s long-standing commitment to education will continue through a series of television projects featuring his All Star Orchestra planned for national broadcast during the 2012/2013 season. A gifted composer and arranger, Schwarz has in recent years expanded his compositional activities. His Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano was called a work of “sophistication and intelligence” by critic R.M. Campbell. Earlier works, including In Memoriam and Rudolf and Jeanette (dedicated to the memory of his grandparents who perished in the Holocaust) were both recorded by Naxos; and Human Spirit, a composition for children’s choir and orchestra, and his duos for violin and cello were called “redolent of the gentle humanism central to much of the music Schwarz loves to conduct” by The Seattle Times. His arrangements of suites from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Webern’s Langsamer Satz are programmed in concerts worldwide. A Journey, a large scale orchestral tone poem, was commissioned by Dave Gannet and received its world premiere at the Eastern Music Festival in July 2012 with the world premiere of Schwarz’s string sextet planned for summer of 2013.
A sought-after guest conductor, Schwarz has led orchestras throughout the world including Academy St. Martin in the Fields, Berlin Radio Symphony, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Hong Kong Philharmonic, London Symphony, Montreal Symphony, Orchestre National de France, Singapore Symphony and the Tokyo Philharmonic. In the United States he has led the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, National Symphony, Oregon Symphony, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony and San Francisco Symphony. He is also known for his operatic performances in addition to his concert work, having appeared with the Juilliard Opera, Kirov Opera, Mostly Mozart Festival, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera and Washington National Opera conducting the operas of Wagner, Janá??ek, Strauss, Mozart, Bizet, Weber, Debussy, Bartók, Stravinsky, Beethoven and Gluck.
Born in America to Viennese parents, Schwarz began studying music at age five and soon focused on the trumpet. A graduate of both New York City's High School of Performing Arts and The Juilliard School, he joined the New York Philharmonic in 1972 as co-principal trumpet, a position he held until 1977. Schwarz’s numerous previous positions include music director of New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival, where he presided over sold-out houses, developed the orchestra’s international touring, maintained a nine-year residency in Japan, considerably expanded its Mozart repertoire and through its televised Live from Lincoln Center appearances earned several Emmy nominations. His tenure as music director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra initiated the long-standing partnership between the orchestra and Classic FM, expanded recordings on the RLPO Live label, initiated a new partnership with Avie records, created the enormously popular Sunday matinee Musically Speaking concert series, which remains the orchestra’s fastest growing audience to this day, led highly acclaimed tours to Spain and Prague and brought the orchestra to National Television in BBC Proms broadcasts. As music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and New York Chamber Symphony, he expanded concert series and audiences, made award-winning recordings and championed new works. In addition he served as artistic advisor to the Tokyo Philharmonic.
Schwarz completed his final season as music director of the Seattle Symphony in 2011 after an acclaimed 26 years. During his leadership, Schwarz was instrumental in the building of Benaroya Hall, spearheading efforts that resulted in an acoustically superb new home for the Seattle Symphony. The many legacies of his extraordinary leadership include a critically acclaimed discography of more than 140 recordings; numerous television programs and concert broadcasts resulting in two Emmy Awards; major strides in music education programs including new series and the successful Soundbridge Seattle Symphony Music Discovery Center; regular programming of innovative themed festival weeks; and dramatically increased audience attendance and classical subscription weeks. Schwarz’s final season in Seattle was emblematic of the conductor’s passionate dedication and support for contemporary music, with a total of 22 world premieres, 18 of these premieres being a part of the Gund/Simonyi Farewell Commissions, an unprecedented commissioning initiative celebrating his farewell season as music director.
In his nearly five decades as a respected classical musician and conductor, Schwarz has received hundreds of honors and accolades. Over the years, he has received two Emmy Awards, 13 Grammy nominations, six ASCAP Awards and numerous Stereo Review and Ovation Awards. He holds the Ditson Conductor’s Award from Columbia University, was the first American named Conductor of the Year by Musical America and has received numerous honorary doctorates, including from his alma mater, The Juilliard School. In 2002 the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers honored Schwarz with its Concert Music Award and in 2003 the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences gave Schwarz its first “IMPACT” lifetime achievement award. Active in music advocacy on a national and state level, he served on the National Council of the Arts and is currently Chairman of the Board of Young Musicians Excelling, an organization in Washington State which supports music education in the Pacific Northwest. Most recently, the City of Seattle recognized his outstanding achievements by naming the street alongside the Benaroya Hall “Gerard Schwarz Place,” and the State of Washington gave him the honorary title of “General” for his extraordinary contributions as an artist and citizen.