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Gerard Schwarz Conducts TŌN Orchestra

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Nov 19th, 2017

Gerard Schwarz with The Orchestra Now

Guest conductor Gerard Schwarz, laureate conductor of the Seattle Symphony, conducted The Orchestra Now (TŌN, pronounced tone) this past Saturday at Bard’s Sosnoff Theater. He chose an unusual but interesting work to premiere in New York State, Eugene Goossens’ Jubilee Variations. Goossens had written composers for variations on a theme, patriotic fanfares for the war effort; eighteen were premiered in 1942/3 for the 50th anniversary of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Schwarz selected ten of these pieces with the bracketing opening theme and finale by Goossens. Schwarz, noted for championing American composers, has just recorded the complete work (but it is not yet released). Schwarz has recorded over a hundred cds with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Last month Naxos released a 30 disk box set of Schwarz conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.

The ten Jubilee Variations played were by: Paul Creston, Aaron Copland, Deems Taylor, Howard Hanson, William Schuman, Walter Piston, Roy Harris, Aris Fuleihan, Bernard Rogers, and Ernest Bloch. While the Creston, Schuman, and Hanson were gentle and lovely, the more muscular and dense suite by Bloch emerged as my favorite. The more extroverted piece by Deems Taylor was also excellent. Jubilee Variations is a special time-capsule portrait of American classical music in the early 1940s. The music offers high quality, yet stops just short of greatness.

During Intermission, I spoke with two TŌN horn players, trumpeter Christopher Moran and tuba player Dan Honaker. Christopher mentioned that Schwarz began as the principal trumpet player of the New York Philharmonic under Pierre Boulez. The day before the concert he had a master class scheduled with Schwarz. Christopher confessed that he was intimidated, yet he now realizes that was silly. He said Schwarz is very particular in giving student critique, yet he does it in a very nice way. Christopher enjoyed the class and Schwarz invited Christopher to play tennis with him the morning of the concert. Christopher says he’s interested in mathematics and playing the trumpet provides an emotional release. His mother was a clarinet player and when she asked him what instrument he wanted to pay, he replied guitar. “No,” she said, “you have to choose a real instrument.” I asked Honaker what made him fall in love with the tuba. He chuckled and replied that he was last in line during class when instruments were given out. He was given a tuba and has stuck with it.

Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 sports the nickname “Romantic.” This remains Bruckner’s most popular symphony, although many connoisseurs prefer his Seventh Symphony. The Fourth contains more personal grit than his other symphonies, as it appears to extol nature, both intimate and majestic. The hunting horn motif retains thrilling exultation. One of its successful elements remains the adroit variation between short lyrical solos and panoramic-like mountain top vistas of sound, especially the horns and varied emphatic rhythms. Violinists Grace Choi and Michael Rau excelled as did flautists Thomas J. Wible and Denis Savelyev. Of special note on brass were Casey Karr and Milad Daniari and Anna Lenhart on French horn and  Federico Ramos on trombone section. Timpani by Miles Salerni was spectacular. And who could forget the blaring trombones of Matt Walley and Gabe Cruz?

If you had the misfortune of missing this concert, the best home remedy is to acquire the 1971 recording by Herbert von Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic.