It’s not unusual to have several high-profile musicians in the one family. Musicality is a genetic trait, and from the Bach family through to Norah Jones and her father Ravi Shankar, the musical world has been enriched by musical families. This weekend, the Northwest Sinfonietta makes good use of a Seattle family – Gerard and Julian Schwarz, who will respectively conduct and play solo cello with the Tacoma-based orchestra in concerts of Dvork, Dohnnyi and Beethoven in Seattle, Tacoma and Puyallup.
This is a relationship goes beyond father and son, entwining the chamber orchestra
The grandson of a viola soloist and Juilliard piano teacher, Julian Schwarz had the highly musical childhood you’d expect from the son of the director of the Seattle Symphony. Learning piano at age 5 and cello at 6, he had natural talent and opportunities playing for dinner guests such as famous cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. When Julian was 11, he made his solo debut performing the Saint-Sans concerto no. 1 with the Seattle Symphony, conducted by his father. Since then, they’ve appeared numerous times together in Seattle and in recordings, as well as venues from the Eastern Music Festival in Carolina to the Hartford Symphony in Connecticut.
Julian is now studying at the Juilliard School in New York, and a gig playing the Shostakovich cello concerto no. 1 with his father and the Seattle Symphony is on the schedule for next year.
It’s the kind of combination of musical heredity and career connections that mark many musical families. Yet the Schwarzes have also been connected in many ways with the Northwest Sinfonietta over the last few years.
After Julian won the orchestra’s 2007 and 2008 Youth Concerto Competition he was chosen by director Christophe Chagnard to serve as Chagnard’s assistant director for the Lake Union Civic Orchestra.
Soon after, the Sinfonietta was accepted as a resident orchestra at Benaroya Hall, encouraged by Gerard Schwarz who had negotiated a favorable rental rate for the group.
Since then Julian has played twice more for the Sinfonietta – once in recital and again in the Brahms Double Concerto with violin.
And now that he’s free of the exclusivity contract preventing him from conducting other local orchestras during his 26-year tenure with the SSO, Gerard Schwarz can lend his own stamp of approval to the Sinfonietta by conducting this weekend.
It will be the first time he’s conducted any orchestra but the SSO in Tacoma, and when he got the invitation he chose his son – who, like the orchestra itself, is turning 21 this year – as soloist.
“We’re breaking new ground,” Chagnard said. “It’s a way for Gerry to put his seal of approval on the Sinfonietta – it’s saying a lot about the level of the orchestra. And it’s a wonderful tribute to Tacoma in general.”
It also is a good way of attracting more Seattle concert-goers, and in fact tonight’s Seattle concert is nearly sold out.
A third concert on Sunday is in Puyallup, and at all three, says Chagnard, the audience is in for a treat.
“It’s remarkable,” said the director. “(Gerard and Julian) have found a good balance of the father-son relationship and a true musical partnership. Julian is so mature for his age and has deep convictions. Gerard has flourish and experience but he respects his son’s ideas. Between the two they make a formidable force. It’s one of the finest father-son partnerships in the music world.”
The Romantic-heavy program is also a fine vehicle for Gerard’s dramatic flair and Julian’s rich, beefy tone: Dvork’s Czech Suite, Dohnnyi’s seldom-heard and challenging cello concerto and Beethoven’s Symphony no. 1, a work that Chagnard hails as ushering in the Romantic period – as new in its time as Dohnnyi’s esoteric harmonies were in the first half of the 20th century.
And, as always when he’s not conducting, Chagnard will be in the audience of every concert.
“(Pairing Gerard and Julian) is a wonderful idea,” he said. “How often can you see a father-son partnership at such a high level?”