Maestro presents symphony with a musical gift


Classical music composition is not something to be taken lightly.
It’s not like whipping off a nursery rhyme or a heavy metal riff.
So, when a composer creates a piece for someone, or something, in many ways, it’s a gift… an act of love.
This week, guest conductor Maestro Gerard Schwarz offers up his “act of love,” when the Hartford Symphony Orchestra performs a piece, “Symphonic Poem No. 1,” which was written specifically for the Connecticut-based ensemble.
Schwarz is no stranger to the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, and its conductor Carolyn Kuan. He has been a guest—along with his son, cellist Julian Schwarz—a number of times. Additionally, he has been a longtime friend of Kwan, ever since she spent three years as his assistant music director with the Seattle Symphony.
“She was a joy to be with and to work with,” said Schwarz, who was calling from his home in New York City.
When Kuan came to Hartford to begin her stint as the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s music director, the maestro explained, she asked him to serve as guest conductor of the HSO for one evening. “They were a wonderful orchestra, wonderful to work with, and had great talent,” said Schwarz.
Last year, Kuan asked Schwarz to return, and this time asked him to bring his son. And then she asked him to return yet again.
As they prepared for the March 2015 performance at The Bushnell, Schwarz explained, Kwan suggested they begin the program with a piece he had composed.
“I’d love to,” said Schwarz to Kuan. Then, he added, “How about if I write something for you?”
Schwarz said he knew he easily could have pulled an existing composition off the shelf. But, he said, he was already interested in writing something new… “a short overture-like piece.” So, he thought, what better time to write the piece than when he had a chance to have it performed by a “wonderful” ensemble like HSO, said Schwartz.
Schwarz said writing a classical composition is “not a simple thing.” And it took considerable time to complete. He wondered if it would be ready in time. He knew he would need to finish soon enough to have the orchestrations delivered to the symphony. Then he would need to provide HSO time to rehearse it.
Finally, however, all of the pieces fell into place and “Symphonic Poem No. 1” was complete.
“I think it’s good,” said Schwarz of his “gift” to HSO, “I’m excited for it to be part of the program.”
But, what was it about the Hartford Symphony Orchestra that Schwarz felt that it was worthy of this gift?
“What’s interesting about Hartford is they play beautifully,” said the maestro. “They are excellent individual musicians.” Additionally, Schwarz said he loves the energy and excitement the Hartford Symphony brings to a piece.
“When I wrote the piece,” said Schwarz, “I knew they’d play it well.”
When the audience listens to “Symphonic Poem No. 1,” Schwarz said they will hear two basic ideas. First of all, he said they will hear a beautiful melody. And then the piece transitions into a more “thorny rhythmic passage,” not quite avant garde but definitely more intense than when the piece opened.
When he composes, said Schwarz, he takes the audience into consideration. He said he is not one of those composers, who treats the audience as an entity that has to be educated.
“I care deeply about the audience,” said Schwarz. They are the most important aspect of a performance after the music. “Without them, we don’t exist.”
Schwarz said it is important the audience has a good experience when they hear his piece. “Hoepfully, they’ll find (the composition) interesting and beautiful.”
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Series presents, “Sainte-Saens and Brahms from Thursday, March 12 to Sunday, March 15 at the Belding Theater at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Tickets starting at $38.50; $10 for students with identification.
For tickets, call (860)987-5900 or visit

Gerard Schwarz, right, and his son Julian will be guests of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
Gerard Schwarz, right, and his son Julian will be guests of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.