Conductor Schwarz: on the way to unity, less is better. MOSTLY MOZART KICKS OFF 10TH SEASON
Washington — Gold clouds of Mozart fill the Kennedy Center Concert Hall as the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra rehearses the last movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27. Suddenly pianist Vladimir Feltsman sprints over from his Steinway to conductor Gerard Schwarz for high-level negotiatons. He wants to turn down the volume on the orchestra in this passage. Schwarz huddles with Feltsman, a bearded Russian 'emigr'e wearing a blue ``Ravinia Festival'' sweat shirt, chinos, and running shoes. He listens carefully as Feltsman murmurs about possible ways to play the passage. Then Schwarz looks up, says briskly to Feltsman and the orchestra, ``They play subito piano [suddenly very soft] so well that if they do it that way, it sounds funny. Any other orchestra - it would sound good.'' Turning toward the orchestra, he says, ``Let's try a compromise. Try a little diminuendo, not too much.''
As they begin to play, Feltsman pads out to the edge of the stage and listens, back to the orchestra. He looks up pensively. He comes back, then nods. The Mozart negotiations have been resolved. Harmony between soloist and orchestra, so important in any concert, is vital here. This is not only the opening week in Washington of Mostly Mozart but the opening night program for the festival at Lincoln Center, a program that will be televised for an audience of millions over PBS tonight at 9 in the ``Live From Lincoln Center'' series.
When the rehearsal of the concerto ends, the orchestra says ``Bravo!'' en masse and claps. As the members leave, Schwarz steps down from the stage and explains quietly what happened:
``He wanted subito piano at the beginning, and it sounded mechanical to me. So I asked the orchestra to play a little diminuendo, a little crescendo, then piano. We called it a compromise, when we were really doing it exactly the way I wanted. Everyone has to save face,'' he said. The night of the Washington performance, the concerto is seamless, soloist and orchestra one, as smooth as an egg cream.
The popular ``Mostly Mozart'' festival kicks off its annual season with a week at Kennedy Center before the seven-week run at New York's Lincoln Center. This year Washington Post critic Charles McCardell described the opening night, with star pianist Alicia de Larrocha as soloist, as ``mostly marvelous'' and noted Schwarz's ``exuberance'' as conductor.
Schwarz as music director, now leading ``Mostly Mozart'' in its 10th season, drops his baton for an hour to talk about his life in music and what Mozart means to him.
``Every piece has an incredible balance,'' he says, ``what I like to call the inevitability of every note. The more you hear it, the better it is, [as] great art should be.''
He sits on a white and gold baroque- patterned couch at the Watergate Hotel on the morning before a strenuous day of rehearsals. Schwarz is a powerfully built man with an open face that looks almost cherubic when his dimpled smile flashes. His black-brown, wavy hair, which flops into damp bangs when he conducts, is carefully combed back. Thick, dark eyebrows like Beethoven's shade his brown eyes. Behind him is a view of a construction crane and the gray Potomac River, seen through a metallic haze of Washington heat. He has shed the white dinner jacket he wears on stage and is relaxing in an ecru knit sports shirt with charcoal gray trousers.
Schwarz is a peripatetic conductor; in addition to ``Mostly Mozart,'' he is music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the New York Chamber Symphony, and the Merkin Concert Hall's ``Music Today'' contemporary music series in New York, as well as principal conductor of the Waterloo Festival in Stanhope, N.J. In addition, this season he will tour for a month in Europe, conducting the Nouvelle Orchestre Philharmonique de Paris, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and the Birmingham Orchestra on a tour of Britain. He also records on the Delos, Nonesuch, and Angel labels.
There is a drought of talented conductors today, he says. ``It is safe to say there are not enough good conductors to go around. We have many better orchestras than we have better conductors. ... Obviously if there are better orchestras there should be more better conductors. Well, there aren't better conductors now than there were 25, 30 years ago, [when] you were talking about people like Bruno Walter, and Stokowski, and Monteux, and Rodzinski, and many great conductors - Munch.''
In his career as music director, Schwarz consistently upgraded and burnished the performances of New York's Y Chamber Symphony (now the New York Chamber Symphony) and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to critical acclaim. Last year Washington Post music critic Joseph McLellan wrote that, when Schwarz first became music director of Mostly Mozart five years ago, he ``was a young man in a hurry. You could hear it in the way he conducted - sometimes, frankly, as though he was rushing to catch a plane.'' But now, ``...it begins to look as if the sky is the limit for this conductor. Critics are beginning to talk about him as possibly the next American conductor to reach the international star level of Leonard Bernstein and Lorin Maazel.''
Certainly his is far from the flamboyant style of Bernstein, one of the conductors he most admires. Schwarz on the podium conducts with great joy, intensity, and spirit but without the Bernstein theatrics.
His eloquent left arm and hand sometimes scoop the music up out of the orchestra, sometimes shush them like rowdy school kids, or stop them like a musical cop, while in his right hand the baton gives a clear, steady beat. He praises their best passages, talks with them as colleagues, and is capable of quelling dissent with a smile and a firm ``Whatever I do, it works. Don't ask me to explain it. Just play short.''
He explains, ``What I try to do with my technique is do only what is necessary to get the performance I'm looking for. I do believe that less is better. What I try to do is..., if possible, inspire the musicans but certainly lead them to a unified interpretation, hopefully one with great depth.''
Schwarz's reputation as a conductor has attracted some of the most celebrated soloists, from violinist Isaac Stern to pianist de Larrocha to mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade (who sings Mozart on PBS tonight). ``I rarely play with people I don't like artistically.''
With soloists, Schwarz does in music what Orson Welles's ``Citizen Kane'' did in film; he keeps everything, foreground and background, in deep focus. His secret: balance. ``The idea is, whether you're conducting an opera or a concerto, the singer or the soloist must always be in the foreground. You must always hear them. On the other hand, the orchestra can't be timid; it can't not be a partner; it can't be completely in the background, either. It has to be supportive of the piano or of the voice or of the violin.'' And he stresses, ``You have to have a unanimity of approach about music.'' The result the night Alicia de Larrocha played the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 22 with silk and steel, was an unforgettable performance.
Schwarz's special empathy for soloists may spring from the fact that he began his musical career as principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic at 25 and was considered one of the world's greatest players of the instrument. Schwarz, the son of Viennese parents, both doctors, was born and raised in Weehawken, N.J. He switched from piano to trumpet as a child after seeing a filmed version of ``A"ida'' with its triumphal trumpet march.
He has also married music: His wife, Jody, is ``a wonderful flutist,'' he says. She expects their first child in September. Schwarz also has two other children, Alysandra, 14, and Daniel, 11, by his marriage to modern dancer Lillo Way.