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Gerard Schwarz (Conductor)

Born: August 19, 1947 - Weehawken, New Jersey, USA

The esteemed American conductor, Gerard Schwarz, was born in New Jersey to Viennese parents. He commenced trumpet lessons when he was 8. After attending the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan (summers, 1958-1960), he studied at New York’s High School of Peforming Arts. He also received trumpet instruction from William Vacchiano (1962-1968), and completed his training at the Juilliard School (B.S., 1972). He played in the American Brass Quintet from 1965 to 1973, and the American Symphony Orchestra from 1966 to 1972.

Gerard Schwarz began his conducting career in 1966 and, within ten years, was appointed Music Director of the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, Eliot Feld Dance Company, Waterloo Music Festival, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and New York Chamber Symphony. Schwarz co-founded the New York Chamber Symphony in 1977 and served as its Music Director through the ensemble’s 25th anniversary season in 2002. He has brought the New York Chamber Symphony from a fledgling organization to a full concert season at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. In 1981, he founded the Music Today Contemporary Series and served as its Music Director through 1989. From 1982 to 2001, Schwarz served as Music Director of New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival and is currently its Conductor Emeritus. He also served as Music Director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra from 2001 through 2006.

Seattle Symphony Orchestra

In 1983, Gerard Schwarz came to Seattle Symphony Orchestra as Music Advisor. The following year he was appointed Principal Conductor and since 1985, he has held the post of Music Director. Under Schwarz’s artistic leadership, Seattle Symphony Orchestra has evolved into one of the world’s finest orchestras. Schwarz’s vast repertoire, including his devotion to American music and the music of our time, has earned him praise worldwide both in performances and on recordings for his compelling sensitivity and extraordinary depth. His over 125 recordings with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, many including music by contemporary American composers, have received widespread recognition, including 12 Grammy nominations, and further enhanced the reputation of Seattle Symphony Orchestra as a leader among ensembles championing the music of contemporary composers. During his tenure with Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Schwarz has received 6 ASCAP awards (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers).

Gerard Schwarz is noted for his success in building the strength of the orchestra; when he began directing the Seattle Symphony in 1983 it had 5,000 subscribers; as of 2008 it had 35,000. He was also integral to the creation of Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, which opened in downtown Seattle on September 12, 1998. The Hall’s superb acoustics have been widely-praised by guest artists, conductors, performing ensembles and music critics from around the world, as well as Symphony patrons. With the building of the Hall, Schwarz helped to grow Symphony audiences, broaden Symphony programs and expand the organization’s community outreach and music education initiatives, including Soundbridge Seattle Symphony Music Discovery Center located in Benaorya Hall. Beyond the impact on the Symphony, Benaroya Hall has been a major component of Seattle’s downtown revitalization, positively impacting tourism and neighborhood businesses.

In the 2001-2002 season, Gerard Schwarz conducted eleven subscription series concerts in the Seattle Symphony Orchestra's new home, Benaroya Hall, as well as special concerts with solists Mstislav Rostropovich and Itzhak Perlman and five concerts in the "Musically Speaking" series. In 2003-2004, Schwarz shepherded Seattle Symphony Orchestra in another landmark event with the celebration Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s Centennial Season. He led the Orchestra in specially commissioned world premieres by six of the foremost composers of the USA, and led the Orchestra in its first-ever East Coast tour which included the Orchestra’s Carnegie Hall debut.

Under Gerard Schwarz’s leadership, Seattle Symphony Orchestra has presented numerous festivals of music focusing on composers from various regions of the world, including the Pacific Rim, Silk Road region, the Americas and Central Europe. Building on Schwarz’s tradition of performing and recording contemporary American music, the Symphony presented a two-part Made in America Festival in 2005 and 2006, showcasing those American composers who created a distinctive American symphonic voice. The festival featured the music of American symphonists such as Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, William Schuman, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein, August Read Thomas, Philip Glass, Bright Sheng, Taaffe Zwilich, John Corgliano and others who created a distinctive American symphonic tradition.

In spring 2007, Seattle Symphony Orchestra presented Music of Central Europe: Bridging the 48th Parallel. Conducted by Gerard Schwarz, the festival repertoire and community partner presentations spanned seven decades of the 20th-century. A major highlight was the concert-staged performance of Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, featuring sets by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. During the 2008-2009 season, Schwarz and Seattle Symphony Orchestra presented a year-long “festival” that celebrated works by immigrant composers. The festival culminated in two special weeks of performances in May and June 2008. Performances of the rarely performed Genesis Suite featured narration by Academy Award winners F. Murray Abraham and Patty Duke, as well as visuals by Dale Chihuly. B. Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra shared the program with a semi-staged presentation of Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht’s The Little Mahagonny.

One of the leading conductors of his generation, American conductor Gerard Schwarz celebrates his 26th and final season as Seattle Symphony Music Director in the 2010-2011 season. Maestro Schwarz will assume the title of Conductor Laureate and return to conduct the Orchestra for several weeks each season beginning with the 2011-2012 season.

Other Musical Activities

Various festivals have taken place under Gerard Schwarz’s leadership to celebrate the works of specific composers, including a Mozart festival in honor of the composer’s 250th birthday, and two Shostakovich festivals. In Spring 2009, Seattle Symphony Orchestra participated in a region-wide Seattle Celebrates Bernstein Festival. Schwarz recreated a Leonard Bernstein Young People’s Concert for symphony audiences and concluded the season with performances of L. Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Symphony No. 3, Age of Anxiety.

During his tenure with Mostly Mozart Festival (1982-2001), Gerard Schwarz conducted a large repertoire, including many early Mozart operas in concert form. His appearances with Mostly Mozart have continued their prestige as New York's favorite summer festival and brought them a large television viewing audience on the PBS network as well as an international profile with tours. He led the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in debuts at Tanglewood and Ravinia festivals, as welas nine years of residencies in Tokyo at Tokyu Bunkamura’s Orchard Hall. Further expanding his relationship with Tokyu Bunkamura, Schwarz became Artistic Advisor to Tokyu Bunkamura’s Orchard Hall, conducting six programs annually with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra from 1994 to 1998. He currently also serves as Music Director of the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina.

Gerard Schwarz first conducted opera with the Washington Opera at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Since then he has appeared with several opera companies and festivals, including the San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera, Kirov Opera (at St. Petersburg's historic Mariinsky Theatre), Juilliard Opera Theatre and Mostly Mozart Festival, the latter of which included the USA premiere of Strauss’ version of Indomeneo. In 1983, he led the American premiere of Wagner’s second opera Das Liebesverbot and Wagner’s version of Gluck’s Iphigenia in Aulis in 1984, both for Waterloo Festival.

In January 1986, Schwarz made his Seattle Opera debut in Mozart’s Così fan tutte. In subsequent seasons he has conducted Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni; Weber’s Der Freischütz; Strauss’ Salome, Ariadne auf Naxos, Elektra, and Der Rosenkavalier; Verdi’s Falstaff and La traviata; Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer; L.v. Beethoven’s Fidelio; Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Janaček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, among others. In 2010, he led the world premiere of Daron Aric Hagan’s opera Amelia with Seattle Opera to great acclaim.

Gerard Schwarz continues to guest conduct around the world and has appeared with many of great orchestras and pre-eminent soloists of our time. As a conductor and passionate music education advocate, he has assisted in launching the careers of many young artists and fostered artistic growth in communities throughout the world.

Recordings & TV

Gerard Schwarz has an extensive discography of some 260 releases with Naxos, Delos, EMI, Koch, New World, Nonesuch, Reference Recording, RLPO Classics, Columbia/Sony and RCA, primarily with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. His many recordings with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra have been devoted to music of American composers such as Howard Hanson, Aaron Copland, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Walter Piston, William Schuman, Donald Hovaness, David Diamond, Paul Creston, as well as music of Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Béla Bartók, Ravel, Schumann, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Wagner.

He has also recorded extensively with other orchestras, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Radio-Symphonie-Orchester-Berlin, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, The Juilliard Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and New York Chamber Symphony. His recent recording activity includes all the Gustav Mahler symphonies and Strauss tone poems with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition, he has made numerous recordings for the Milken Archive for American Jewish Music, including several with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s first CD recorded entirely in Benaroya Hall, an all-William Schuman disc that includes his Symphonies Nos. 4 and 9, was released in May 2005 on the Naxos label. From 2005 to 2010, Schwarz and Seattle Symphony Orchestra released the remaining Schuman symphonies and, in 2010, Schuman’s Symphony No. 8 was released, completing the series.

Gewrard Schwarz’s first recording of music by Howard Hanson was a mainstay on the Billboard’s classical music best-selling list for 41 weeks, including six weeks at number three. It was nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Best Classical Album of 1989, and earned a 1989 Record of the Year honor from Stereo Review. The next three Schwarz recordings featuring Hanson’s music appeared on Billboard’s best selling charts and each earned Grammy nominations. In 2007, Schwarz released a recording of Hanson’s complete opera Merry Mount with Seattle Symphony Orchestra and distinguished vocalists. He has received two Record of the Year Awards and a Mumms Ovation Award. Maestro Schwarz’s recording of the Mount St. Helens Symphony, by Alan Hovhaness, debuted on Billboard's chart at No. 17 and rose quickly to No. 5.

Recent recording highlights with Seattle Symphony Orchestra include the release of Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s first self-produced recording of Holiday Classics; Samuel Jones’ Concerto for Tuba & Orchestra and Symphony No. 3; Bright Sheng’s The Phoenix, Tibetan Swing, Red Silk Dance, H’un (Lacertaions): In memoriam 1966–1976; G. Mahler’s Symphony No. 8; Arthur Foote’s Francesca da Rimini and other works; Deems Taylor’s complete opera Peter Ibbetson; and Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major and Spohr’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E-flat major.

In addition to his many appearances on the Live from Lincoln Center series, Gerard Schwarz’s television credits include a 1984 KCTS TV/Seattle (PBS) broadcast of G. Mahler’s Symphony No. 2; Front Row Center, a KING TV/Seattle (NBC) award-winning 1985 broadcast featuring Copland’s Billy the Kid suite; A Grand Night, PBS’s March 1988 celebration of the performing arts, for which he served as music director; two KCTS broadcasts of his acclaimed educational concerts titled Musically Speaking; a nationally telecast performance in France with the Orchestre Philharmonique; A Romantic Evening, a broadcast on KCTS in February 1993, which received a Northwest Regional Emmy Award; a live broadcast by KCTS of the Gala Opening Night Concert in Benaroya Hall on September 12, 1998; and an August 1999 National PBS TV Broadcast of “Seattle Symphony: Home at Last,” that presented the Gala Opening Night Concert in Benaroya Hall with additional interviews and information hosted by National Public Radio commentator Susan Stamberg.


Under Schwarz’s leadership, Seattle Symphony Orchestra has received 12 Grammy nominations. It was recognized nationally for its adventurous programming both in 1996 and 2004, when it received the First Place Award for Programming of Contemporary Music from ASCAP. Schwarz and Seattle Symphony Orchestra also received additional ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming in 1990, 1994, 1996, 2001, 2004 and 2006. In 1991, the Symphony was awarded the ASCAP John S. Edwards Award for Strongest Commitment to New American Music. In 2002, ASCAP honored Schwarz with its Concert Music Award. According to ASCAP, Schwarz “exemplifies the ideal American conductor. ASCAP honors his leadership and commitment to bring the music of our time to audiences everywhere, through his concerts and recordings.”

Under the direction of Gerard Schwarz, Seattle Symphony Orchestra won two Emmy Awards for its first two self-produced television specials, Seattle Symphony From Benaroya Hall in 2007, and SeSymphony From Benaroya Hall: Brahms, Kernis and Kodály in 2008. In 2002, Gerard Schwarz was nominated for a primetime Emmy for his Live from Lincoln Center performance of Mozart’s Requiem, which was broadcast on PBS. A Romantic Evening, a broadcast on KCTS in February 1993, received a Northwest Regional Emmy Award.

Gerard Schwarz has received a number of other awards, including being named 1994 Conductor of the Year by Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts, the first American to receive this award. In April 2003, the Pacific Northwest Branch of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences gave Maestro Schwarz its first “IMPACT” lifetime achievement award. In January 2004, Schwarz was appointed to the NEA National Council on the Arts. In September 2006 he received a Mayor’s Arts Award, given by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels for extraordinary achievement and contribution in the arts. In 2009, Schwarz received Seattle’s First Citizen Award and the Key to the City of Greensboro and, in 2010, he received the ArtsFund Award of King and Pierce counties.

In 1989, Gerard Schwarz received the Ditson Conductor's Award from Columbia University for his commitment to the performance of American music. He received an honorary Doctorate of Music from The Juilliard School, and other honorary degrees from the Fairleigh Dickinson University, University of Puget Sound, Seattle University and Cornish College of the Arts. In 2001 he was named Honorary Fellow of John Moores University, Liverpool.

More Photos

Source: Liner notes to the CD ‘Bach & Handel: Arias’ conducted bt Gerard Schwarz (Delos, 1985-1994); PBS Website (1999); American Composers Orchestra Website; Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Seattle Symphony Orchestra Website; Wikipedia Website (August 2010)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2001, August 2010)

Gerard Schwarz: Short Biography | Seattle Symphony Orchestra | Recordings of Vocal Works | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

PBS Pressroom: Program Releases - Live From Lincoln Center
Artist Biographies (American Composers Orchestra)
Gerard Schwarz, Music Director (New York Chamber Symphony)
Seattle Symphony: The Conductors: Gerard Schwarz

Greg Sandow -- Gerard Schwarz and Mostly Mozart
Schwarz to work with Liverpool Philharmonic (Seattle P-I)
Gerard Schwarz (Wikipedia)

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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