Behind The Baton: An American Icon Talks Music

COMPOSERS: Various composers
LABELS: Amadeus Press
ALBUM TITLE: Behind The Baton: An American Icon Talks Music
WORKS: Gerard Schwarz with Maxine Frost
CATALOGUE NO: ISBN 978-1-57467-476-7


Anyone hoping this insightful memoir might add substance to rumours of acrimony surrounding conductor Gerard Schwarz’s departure from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 2006 (following five years as music director) will be sorely disappointed. Indeed, he has nothing but praise for the musicians in his charge and the ‘many lasting friendships’ he made and ‘fantastic concerts’ he gave during his time there. This in many ways sets the tone for a book that refreshingly exchanges ephemera for an information-packed, sweeping narrative, full of optimism and affection, that reveals a man whose passionate dedication to music is evident on every page.

Schwarz is a man driven by a desire to achieve the highest performance standards and ideals. He was a teenage trumpet prodigy who worked with Leopold Stokowski and Pablo Casals (his Jewish parents had fled Nazi-occupied Austria in 1939, bound for America), and aged just 24 he was appointed principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic during the Pierre Boulez era.

He spent 25 years as the inspirational conductor of the New York Chamber Symphony, and enjoyed a remarkable 28-year tenure as music director of the Seattle Symphony. And his strong belief in education led to his formation of the multi Emmy Award-winning All-Star Orchestra.

To date, Schwarz has premiered over 300 new works, made more than 350 recordings and received no fewer than 14 Grammy nominations, yet he remains a thoroughly down-to-earth, dedicated family man. The lack of warts ‘n’ all tittle-tattle here may leave sensation-seekers feeling short-changed, but as an uplifting retrospective of a highly successful career populated by some of the biggest names of the last half-century, and as a revealing, behind-the-scenes look at the near-impossible balancing act that is the lot of a music director, it makes for fascinating reading.


Julian Haylock