Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 18, 2012

Musical Legacy

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
through April 15, 2012
by Michael J. Moran

Gerard & Julian Schwarz
The special attraction of the seventh “Masterworks” program in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s current season was the chance to see guest conductor Gerard Schwarz lead a concert featuring his son Julian as soloist. The esteemed elder Schwarz retired last year as music director of the Seattle Symphony after 26 years in that post. His twenty-year-old son is a rising cellist who, though still a Juilliard student, has already performed with many professional orchestras.

The program opened with an HSO premiere: Chinese-born composer Bright Sheng’s 2006 arrangement for orchestra of Brahms’s “Intermezzo in A Major” for solo piano. The 7-minute piece, which Sheng gave the enigmatic title “Black Swan,” captured and even magnified the autumnal warmth of the original and was given an appropriately lush and tender performance.

Schwarz told the Hartford Courant that these HSO concerts marked his first collaboration with his son in perhaps the greatest of all cello concertos, Dvorak’s 1895 “Concerto in B minor.” Its many Czech-sounding melodies recall the composer’s homeland, including a quotation from one of his songs that was a favorite of a beloved sister-in-law who died while he was finishing work on the concerto.

The memorable performance revealed all the drama and poignancy of the music, from the grand opening of the first movement with its solo horn melody beautifully played by principal Barbara Hill, through the bucolic central Adagio, to the fleet rondo finale. The soloist’s rich, expressive tone and his interpretive maturity easily met both the technical demands and the wide emotional range of this 40-minute masterpiece and earned him an enthusiastic standing ovation.

The program closed with a powerful account of Sibelius’s “Symphony No. 2,” acclaimed at its world premiere in 1902 as a bold statement of Finnish nationalism. Schwarz’s affinity for this piece, which he told the Courant first inspired him to study conducting, was clear in the dark, brooding sound he drew from the players, especially brass, woodwinds, and percussion.  Mutual applause showed how much conductor and orchestra enjoyed working together.

The “musical legacy” of this father has a long and promising future with his son.