On a high note

The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, led last Thursday by guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen, performs for the final time this season at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

CSO celebrates end of 83rd season with conductor Schwarz, pianist Gutiérrez and mezzo soprano Sanders

Lauren Hutchison | Staff Writer


As they celebrate the end to their 83rd season, the musicians of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will welcome back old friends and familiar faces for a final concert featuring Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19 in F major, K.459, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92. Guest conductor Gerard Schwarz, pianist Horacio Gutiérrez and mezzo soprano Allison Sanders join the CSO at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater.

Schwarz and Gutiérrez studied at The Juilliard School at the same time and have been performing together since 1979. Schwarz was music director of the Mostly Mozart Festival for almost two decades, and Gutiérrez frequently performs with the festival. They’ve also worked together at the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, where Schwarz was music director for 26 years.

“Gutiérrez is probably one of the great pianists of the world,” Schwarz said. “He’s a remarkable artist. It’s a great joy, for me, to make music with him.”


Gutiérrez said Schwarz is one of the best conductors in the business, with vast experience and knowledge, especially of Mozart.

“He is also one of the nicest people that you could hope to meet,” he said. “He is down to earth, very forthcoming with what he has to say and what he feels. I treasure our friendship of all of these years.”

Tonight’s concert is Gutiérrez’s fourth Chautauqua performance. He said he always enjoys coming to Chautauqua with his wife, pianist Patricia Asher, and hopes she can be in attendance for this concert. Asher was struck by a bus in April and was in hospital care for more than three months. Schwarz was one of the first people to call the couple after the accident, Gutiérrez said.

“We’re hoping that this is going to be a happy reunion on that front as well,” he said. “I’m very happy that Gerry is the one that’s going to be conducting the concert, not only because of what it means for me, musically, to work with him, but also because personally, I would love him to be the first conductor I play with after this accident that happened with my wife. … It will make us both feel like normal life is resuming again.”


Gutiérrez said he chose Mozart’s 19th piano concerto for its leisurely, pastoral, “Chautauqua-appropriate” feeling. He said it has one of the greatest last movements in Mozart’s repertoire, with operatic writing that’s reminiscent of his opera The Magic Flute. The integration of themes and dialogue creates a real tour de force for the orchestra and the pianist.

“It’s not the most profound, but it, like all of his concertos … they all have something that sets them apart that are unique to themselves,” he said. “In this one, it’s the vitality, the vigor, the joyfulness of it.”

Mozart’s influence is heard in the concert’s opening piece, Daniel Brewbaker’s “Be Thou the Voice.” Schwarz commissioned it as part of a series of 18 works intended to open Seattle Symphony concerts.

“I’m a great believer of the music of our time,” he said. “Of course, we’re all steeped in the 19th-century tradition that means so much to all of us, but an art form like ours has to also look to the future — we can’t just look backwards.”

The text for the work is from Wallace Stevens’ poem, “Mozart, 1935.” Schwarz described it as a discussion of Mozart but through contemporary eyes.

Sanders will sing “Be Thou the Voice.” Although this is the first time she’s worked with Schwarz, she is no stranger to Chautauqua or the Amphitheater stage — Sanders has studied with Marlena Malas in the Voice Program for the last four years, where she sang the role of Ottavia in Claudio Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea and Carmen in Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

“I’m extremely excited to sing with the wonderful orchestra in Chautauqua,” Sanders said in an email. “I think it is such an honor to be asked to be a part of this performance. As a young singer, working with Maestro Schwarz and the CSO will be a great learning experience. It’s not very often that I get the chance to sing concerts with orchestras.”

She described “Be Thou the Voice” as a piece of great depth, which speaks to a time of great sorrow and pain. Sanders said the piece is comfortable, yet thrilling to sing. The Stevens poem empowers her as an artist and as a person.

“At one point it says to ‘Be thou the voice, not you,’” she said. “You can have an impact on the world if you can take yourself out of the equation and speak for something larger than yourself.”

The Mozartian works are followed by Beethoven’s seventh symphony, a piece that is very personal for Schwarz.

“What was the first piece that really impressed you, grabbed you, and made you say, ‘I really like classical music; this is going to be part of my life’?” he asked.

For a young Schwarz, it was this symphony. His parents, both physicians who immigrated to the U.S. from Austria, signed him up to a classical music record club. He received the symphony on a 7-inch LP.

“I wore it out — I just listened to it over and over again,” he said. “It was the power, the beauty, the excitement, the vitality, the poignancy — all just reached me as a 7-year-old in a way that you’re not supposed to be touched when you’re that young.”

He said he’ll never forget hearing the oboe after the opening A-major chord. He described hearing the slow movement and loving the simplicity of the melody and the way it develops. He called the scherzo a lightning rod that seems to have a trajectory of excitement and apprehension. For Schwarz, the last movement is not a dance but a powerful gesture and an incredible, dynamic finale.

“For years, because it was so personal, I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “As I came back to it, I was able to discover a personal way to make this piece work for me, artistically, without this weight on my shoulders that had to tell me how it had to be done.”

Schwarz is the music director of the Eastern Music Festival and the conductor laureate of the Seattle Symphony. He also is a composer and currently is orchestrating David Diamond’s opera, The Noblest Game. Schwarz, soprano Jennifer Zetlan and the Seattle Symphony will premiere six arias from the opera May 17, 2012. Schwarz also is working on an educational television program, featuring an orchestra of all-star performers, to be shown on THIRTEEN, WNET New York public media.

This fall, Sanders will return to the Curtis Institute of Music for her last year of study in the masters program. There, she will perform the role of Marguerite in Charles Gounod’s Faust, from Nov. 17 to Nov. 20. In February, she will perform a solo concert with Opera Memphis.

Gutiérrez currently is recording Chopin Preludes, Op. 28. He has upcoming chamber music performances with Cleveland Orchestra violinist Emilio Llinas, including Brahms’ Sonata in G Major, Op. 78 and Strauss’ Violin Sonata in E-flat, Op. 18. Gutiérrez also has upcoming solo appearances with the St. Louis Symphony, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. He also will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 with the San Francisco Symphony for its 100th anniversary celebration.

In 2012, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra will invite many of this season’s guest conductors and soloists to return. Next year, the CSO also will begin its search for a new music director.