“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 www.allstarorchestra.org.