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The American conductor and trumpeter Gerard Schwarz, who celebrated his 70th birthday last year, will be remembered for ardent ventures into neglected repertory, such as the second piano concerto of George Perle (BRIDGE 9214A/B) or David Diamond’s Elegy in memory of Maurice Ravel (Naxos 8559709). Nor are Schwarz’s explorations limited to Americana. His versions of symphonies by the Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik were among the high points of a 30-CD box set of reissues out last year (Naxos 8503294). Trumpeters tend not to be shrinking violets, and even among this crowd, Schwarz was an unusually self- confident and nimble virtuoso in such past CDs as Cornet Favourites, accompanied by William Bolcom (Nonesuch 0349710626). Nonetheless, the subtitle of his memoir gives the surprising impression that the maestro deems himself an icon.

While doubtless mere editorial oversight, additional deliberate omissions here cause further disquiet for readers. UK audiences will recall that in 2004, Mr Schwarz’s stint as musical director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra was truncated when 45 of the 64 contract musicians voted against his five-year contract being extended beyond 2006, with three abstentions, according to the Daily Telegraph in April 2004. About what was evidently some degree of musicianly strife, Mr Schwarz only notes tersely in Behind the Baton, ‘I can’t say that my departure was my choice.’ Equally unilluminating are his reflections on the widely publicised strife attendant upon his departure as longtime music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra where, the New York Times reported in September 2008, musicians ‘voted 61-8 in favor of new artistic leadership, and 61-12 for the formation of a search committee.’ About these and related events, the author sidesteps human relations issues and appears to be mainly impressed by a New York Times article from December 2007 that he terms a ‘very critical and harmful piece.’

It would be presumptuous to liken a lack of delving for personal insight in this drily compiled inventory of accomplishments with an absence of emotional profundity in standard repertory works. Yet the maestro, despite evident skills, has produced a large catalogue of less-than-stellar recordings of orchestral warhorses.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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