Sat, May 03, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Music in dark times

Conductor Gerard Schwarz talks about his upcoming program with the National Symphony Orchestra and the imperiled US classical music industry

By Enru Lin  /  Staff reporter

“In the biggest cities like Berlin, New York and Vienna, it’s not hard, because you have such a large audience for classical music … When you get into the smaller cities, small countries, you have to figure out what’s your place.”

In recent years, strategies deployed to gain more audience share have varied wildly: Some ensembles have tried bringing in more star soloists, while many others have leaned toward popular programming.

“With each orchestra the needs are different, but I don’t believe we need to play rock and roll. Some orchestras do — they bring in rock bands, they play backup, people come and it’s very nice. I think that if you don’t have to do it, you shouldn’t do it,” Schwarz says.

“You are raising a new audience, but not an audience for classical music.”

For Schwarz, a sensible direction is community involvement and education, which delivers benefits to both the industry and the wider public.

At Seattle, he and the orchestra offered concerts tailored to specific ages — little recitals for 5-year-olds, cooler concerts for 12-year olds and 16-year-olds and events for seniors.

“We played once a year at city hall and at major companies’ headquarters. We played with students. We did a community orchestra where we embraced everybody that played,” he says.

“You do anything you can to become an integral part of the community.”

Schwarz’s latest project is All Star Orchestra, a series of TV programs featuring top US musicians performing and explaining classical masterpieces and new works. Users can stream episodes for free at

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