• Ilona Oltuski

Musical talent runs in the family – Gerard and Julian Schwarz

When raised to become one of the next generation’s masters, young musical talents born into families of professional musicians are often faced with an especially challenging route to maturity. Some of the great privileges, like constant exposure to musical life and the imprint of musical inspiration on early childhood, are undermined by the need to separate from both parental and musical authority figures in an effort to find one’s own voice.


Photo-credit: Steve Sherman While searching for his own identity, Julian Schwarz, a talented young cellist, was faced with the question: “How much do you want to be defined by your family, especially your father, the renowned maestro?” It was something “I had to work through,” Julian says. He speaks passionately about his journey to explore what difference he could personally bring to the musical world and a way of life he always had the highest regard for. “I always felt proud of my background and the musical life I shared with my family: My mom, my grandparents, my aunts, and many of my cousins are musicians. My parents actually met through my mom’s father, a gifted violinist, when my father was principal trumpet at the New York Philharmonic. It’s not just my father – music is a family affair.”


Julian began building an active performance life in high school. Participating in various community orchestra competitions and chamber music performances for local musicians, he was able start feeling secure in his music and to sense that “something clicked.” He ultimately chose to go to Los Angeles’ Coburn School to continue his music education. It was not long before management became interested in Julian’s career and began launching concert tours, but Julian felt he was not fully able to connect his schooling with his budding professional life as yet. Julian and his siblings grew up in Seattle, where their father Gerard Schwarz, the trumpet player turned conductor, had started his long-lasting partnership with the Seattle Symphony. As one of their key figures, Maestro Schwarz helped to shape and educate Seattle’s artistic community: “It was always my goal to build a community, and my motto was – we have to play great concerts, then the audience will come.” Under Gerard’s leadership, the Seattle orchestra built its own, new concert hall,  named Benaroya Hall.  The street leading up to it, became Gerard Schwarz Place. The conductor, whose portrait graces the hall’s vestibule, devoted himself fully to the five-year project, which resulted in a hall with acoustics fit for a world-renowned orchestra, which, he proudly says, “sounded great, at least when I left just a few years ago.”

When Julian’s parents moved back to New York City in 2010, he felt it was time to make a new home in the city he feels is the ideal place for musicians. It was around this time that he felt he had “found himself,” musically speaking. In 2010 he premiered a cello concerto written with him in mind by composer Samuel Jones, who held a residency at the Seattle Symphony. At the Symphony’s opening Gala that year, father and son shared the stage, and Julian, for the first time, felt like the soloist he was. He managed to impress his father who,  a little nervously, called for a brief run-through of the piece at home before the evening’s performance. “He tested me a bit and when he offered me a music stand to play parts of the piece through, I declined. I had memorized the entire piece, made it my own, and my commitment was clear – to both of us,” notes Julian.

The relationship between these two illustrious talents begs the question, when did you notice, as a father and conductor, your child’s talent at home? “Right from the beginning,” Gerard says, “when Julian was taking piano at age 5. You could tell he had a wonderful musical gift, and when he started the cello, certain things came easily to him, like the intonation, improvising, playing by ear.” Growing up in a large family with a big musical contingency – 11 members of the Schwarz family attended the Juilliard School – Julian played many instruments, but showed continued interest in the cello. Having talent and going towards a career, however, are two different things.


“We never pushed too hard,” Gerard explains, “but we made music lessons a requirement of his general education.” Julian was also attending summer music camps, where “you had to practice, or you had nothing to do,” says his father pragmatically, who also admits to having liked the idea of one of his kids – there are three siblings who are non-musicians –becoming a musician: “I thought I actually might be able to help him. But I know how difficult it is to make a career as a musician, and I only encouraged him to pursue a life in music if he felt it was something he absolutely had to do.” Gerard cannot put a date on it, but indicates that those who listen to Julian know that he has it: “Whether at 11 or 21, there were always those who said he only got a chance because of our relationship, until they heard him play. And in the end, getting the opportunities even out, with the ones he won’t get precisely because he is my son.”

Just recently though, both musicians were able to link their professional career paths through Gerard Schwarz’s latest project, All Star Orchestra, which highlights his driving force in the orchestral world and also afforded Julian a televised ‘coming of age’ performance as featured soloist in a televised orchestra production. “This is the most important thing, I have ever done,” says the elder Schwarz, which is of note considering his long and eminent career. He expresses a passion for broadening the audience for classical music against all odds: “We have to accept that not everyone is going to appreciate great music, but we have to create a bigger platform to provide opportunities, to expose a greater part of the population to it.”

Besides the live-recorded performances by handpicked musicians from America’s orchestras, is an educational website available that includes information about the performed works. In addition, there will be filmed footage presenting an in-depth analysis of each piece, as well as partial performances of orchestral sections and insights into the principal player of each section. All in all, the combined materials will provide viewers with an observation and understanding of the orchestral workings far beyond any detailed description available until now.

In co-production with the National Association of Music Education, the All Star project will reach millions of interested viewers, including many children, through streaming, broad distribution of the Naxos-released DVDS, and international TV viewings. And now there is talk about producing accompanying textbooks and of the Asian and European markets coming on board. The recordings are all done without an audience, and actually without any full rehearsal, by the experienced orchestral players conducted by Maestro Schwarz; this way, the cameras can go anywhere without disturbing any viewers in the concert hall. “Nothing like this has been done since omnibus, the pedagogical series with Bernstein, produced in the 50s,” says Schwarz. “We did not do anything but play for the cameras and microphones, the musicians literally playing for each other.”


For Julian, playing next to violinist Yevgeny Kutik and pianist Xiayin Wang, the only other young soloists, featured on the recordings was: “probably the most nerve-racking thing I have ever done. Here was the crème de la crème of orchestral players, and I had to prove myself. But I also was excited – there was no rehearsal, everyone knew from the first moment that every note counted. There was electricity, usually only found in more intimate chamber music.” And from the maestro’s point of view: “I knew all players extremely well, and gave them latitude. Rehearsals were practically unnecessary and that saved a lot of time, which is essential for such a recording effort (which took place at New York’s City Center). All edits were worked out in advance, but we hardly used any, with a few exceptions. There was almost nobody who believed that we could get everything done in the extremely short time available, but we managed.”  For updates on national broadcasts visit:http://www.allstarorchestra.org/

The father-son cooperation continues: The pair is off to Australia to record the legendary Elgar Cello Concerto with the Brisbane Queensland Symphony for the Master Performers label.

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