Concluding Commissions: Seattle Celebrates Gerard Schwarz’s Commitment to New Music By Molly Sheridan

Concluding Commissions: Seattle Celebrates Gerard Schwarz’s Commitment to New Music
By Molly Sheridan
Published: May 31, 2011
This year in Seattle, Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony are celebrating the music director’s final season at the helm of the orchestra by presenting 22 world premieres, including 18 new works commissioned under the banner of theGund/Simonyi Farewell Commissions. We caught up with the maestro in advance of his final concerts of the season to chat about new music, new ideas, and not taking no for an answer. —MS


Gerard Schwarz
Photo by Ben VanHouten

Molly Sheridan: This has been a stunning year for new music in Seattle. When the 2010-11 season is over, you’ll have celebrated your farewell season with the symphony by presenting 22 world premieres. The common perception is that “new music” and “orchestra subscribers” don’t mix very well, so how are you getting away with this?

Gerard Schwarz: It is a huge honor to end my tenure as music director of this terrific orchestra with a season full of new works. It’s a testament to this great orchestra, to our adventurous audiences, and to our committed board that we could all make this happen. Of course a season with 22 world premieres couldn’t work without our history of exploring contemporary music together. Our audience in Seattle is quite remarkable. I think they really do trust my programming instincts. The music I’ve championed over these many years has, with very few exceptions, been extremely well received by audiences and critics alike. There is no question that the audience here is not fearful of new music, and I am so grateful to them for embracing so many living composers.

MS: Obviously, you’ve made supporting the work of living composers a hallmark of your career. On a personal level, where does this commitment come from? What has fueled it through the years?

GS: From the time I was quite young, I was interested in composing. When I told my parents that I wanted to be a musician, I know that they were skeptical. But my father then insisted that if I was going to devote my life to music that I must study properly and he arranged for me during my high school years to study with Paul Creston. I was already very familiar with the mainstream American composers because of my extensive LP recording collection. Composers like Schuman, Piston, Diamond, Copland, Barber, and Mennin were all very familiar to me. I first encountered Howard Hanson’s music as a student at the National Music Camp in Michigan. When I became active as an instrumentalist, both playing as a soloist in the American Brass Quintet and in most of the new music ensembles in New York in the mid ’60s, this curiosity and interest in new music was intensified. The excitement I felt in those years for new music has continued until today. With 22 world premieres in Seattle and 9 at the Eastern Music Festival this summer, this year has been without question the most exciting for me in terms of new music.

complete interview here.

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