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5 Questions: Maestro Gerard Schwarz joins former student Grant Cooper in WVSO concerts

WANT TO GO?

West Virginia Symphony Orchestra

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

WHERE: Clay Center

TICKETS: $27.50, $40.50, $56.60, $68.50 and $70.50 INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Maestro Gerard Schwarz has accomplished quite a lot in his long career. A Julliard-trained musician who went on to play trumpet with the New York Philharmonic, Schwarz eventually became the long-time music director and conductor for the Seattle Symphony.

Over the years, he has earned numerous Grammy nominations, won two Emmy Awards and even had a street named after him in Seattle. But one of his lesser-known accomplishments is that he was one of West Virginia Symphony Orchestra Maestro Grant Cooper's trumpet teachers.

This weekend, he will guest conduct the "Rach 2" program with Cooper, which also includes guest pianist Lola Astanova and features Rimsky-Korsakov's Overture to Tsar's Bride and Scheherazade, op 35 as well as Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 for Piano.

The gazz spoke with Schwarz in advance of his appearance, about his career, his tastes in music and Grant Cooper.

Q: The rumor is that you were Maestro Grant Cooper's trumpet teacher once upon a time. Is that true?

A: (laughs) Yes. Grant Cooper and I have two things in common. We are both conductors, and we're both trumpet players. When Grant came over from New Zealand, he spent some time studying trumpet with me. He was a very gifted trumpet player, a very gifted musician, and it was a joy teaching him.

Q: What was Cooper like in his 20s?

A: He's no different now than he was, in the sense that he has a fabulous personality, a tremendous enthusiasm and he's a great musician.

Q: Do you still play?

A: I don't. I think Grant might still play every once in a while. I was in the New York Philharmonic, and after I left, I spent a couple more years playing while I developed my conductor technique, developing connections and beginning my career as a conductor.

I stopped playing when I was 30, and I'm 66 now. That's a lot of years ago.

But I've never stopped dreaming about playing. It's not every night, but maybe once a month, I'll have a trumpet dream that goes back to my time at Julliard or New York.

I still play an instrument. I'm a conductor, but I do play the piano and play that quite regularly, but it's not the same thing as a trumpet. We don't make the sounds ourselves, and I think you do miss creating sound. It's very special and very personal, I think.

Q: As a noted conductor, you lead orchestras that perform the music that Grant Cooper has referred to as the "jewels of western civilization," but do you ever listen to the junk food (pop music)? Any guilty pleasures?

A: (laughs) Not much. I don't listen much. I've always been a great jazz fan and played jazz when I was a youngster. I'm a great music lover and love folk, pop, bluegrass and country-western. I love to hear music from everyone, but I don't have much opportunity -- and basically, when music is your life and you're immersed in it, you try to do a lot of other things aside from music.

I play tennis, read books and spend time with my family, which I think is healthy. I like junk food -- pop music -- I just don't have much opportunity to listen as much as I'd like.

Q: You built a successful symphony program in Seattle, where you were conductor for 16 years. What sort of advice would you give to our symphony, which is located in a small city in a very rural state?

A: West Virginia is small compared to California. Charleston is small compared to New York, but that doesn't make it a less artistically vibrant city. Our job is to bring the orchestra into the community, make the music part of the fabric of life.

Everybody knows about the positive effect music education has on kids. If you study music in high school, you're five times likely to graduate than if you don't. That's astounding, and it's extraordinary what this great music can do.

The orchestra is the center post of culture in any city, and while we can't replace music education in the schools, we can be support for those teachers. Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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