With Gerard Schwarz on the podium and his son, Julian Schwarz, as the featured soloist in Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, patrons of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra will witness a true rarity this weekend. That’s because there have been very few artistic collaborations between a conductor and offspring at this professional level in the world of classical music.
Gerard Schwarz, 72, is an internationally acclaimed conductor known for his work at the helm of the Seattle Symphony, a discography of over 350 recordings, six Emmy awards and 14 Grammy nominations. He still maintains a busy schedule as the music director of the All-Star Orchestra, the Palm Beach Symphony and the Eastern Music Festival. He is also is on the faculty of the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.
Julian Schwarz, 28, soloed with the Seattle Symphony as an 11-year-old. In addition to bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Juilliard School, he has toured the United States with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, won the Schoenfeld International String Competition, and soloed with many orchestras nationally and in Australia, Mexico, China and Europe. He teaches at Shenandoah University and often plays concerts with his fiancee, Marika Bournaki, a pianist.
The Vancouver concerts mark a return appearance by maestro Gerard Schwarz, who gamely filled in at the last moment in January 2014 when the scheduled conductor, Jesus Medina, was forced to cancel because of visa problems. He is eagerly anticipating the performances with Julian.
“The Dvorak is the Mount Everest of the cello repertoire,” Julian Schwarz said. “I remember when I was about 10 years old, I told my parents, ‘I must play the Dvorak Cello Concerto. It’s my favorite piece in the world. I’ve got to play it.’ I asked my teacher, and he said, ‘No! You’re not ready for this.’ And, of course, I wasn’t.
“Then I went to my parents and said that they must advocate for me. My teacher told them, ‘He has no idea what he is getting himself into.’ So I always had it on my music stand even when I couldn’t get through the first couple of lines.
“I was 14 or 15 years old when I finally put my nose to the grindstone and learned the piece. That was such an achievement for me.”
The Dvorak Cello Concerto is a 40-minute piece of epic proportions that has made it an audience favorite since 1896 when it was first premiere.
“The whole piece is a complete enjoyment for me,” said Julian Schwarz. “The heart of the work is in the second movement. I am fascinated by colors and timbres of sound. In the slow movement I can paint these colors and explore the emotional range of the piece.”
Julian Schwarz said the piece was influenced by the Czech composer’s personal history.
“The second movement encapsulates many of Dvorak’s emotions at the time he wrote the piece,” he added. “There was the death of his first love, Josefina, who was the older sister of Anna, the woman he ended up marrying. He quotes a poignant song called ‘Leave Me Alone’ that Josefina loved. He explored connections between Bohemian and Moravian folk elements and blended them with his idea of an American sound. He wrote this concerto while in America and wanted to establish an American sound but was homesick. So, you can hear a longing for his home, echoes of native American music, and a heartbreak about the illness of the woman who was his first love.”
The other big piece on program is Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, one of the masterpieces of the symphonic repertoire.
“The Tchaikovsky was requested by the orchestra,” Gerard Schwarz said. “I’ve done it a lot and know it very well. That means that I can look at it freshly every time I do it. I can discover new things, see new things, and think about the piece differently. It’s an exploration.”
The orchestra will also play the “Sixth Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” by Joan Tower. It is part of a larger work that Tower composed over many years.
“Joan just turned 80 and is one American’s great composers and has been a dear friend for many, many years,” Gerard Schwarz said. “Her fanfare is delightful, wonderful and exciting. I’ve done it a few times and like it very much and orchestras love to play it. Plus, it gives us the opportunity to do a work by a living American. That’s all too uncommon.”