Conductor Gerard Schwarz releases a bit of long-lost Schubert history

Gerard Schwarz is the artistic and music director of the Palm Beach Symphony.Ben VanHouten

August 10, 2021

“Serendipity” is not a word that comes to mind when you talk about a new classical recording, but for conductor Gerard Schwarz that is exactly what happened. His new release of Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 was recorded in 1987 with the New York Chamber Symphony and then thought to be lost, until now.

In a beautiful history lesson, Schwarz explained the story of the New York Chamber Symphony — or, as it was named during the original recording, the Y Chamber Symphony. The ensemble was part of the 92nd Street Y’s Schubertiade, a 10-year project in the 1980s and ‘90s devoted to songs and chamber music of Schubert. The event followed a practice started by the composer himself.

Gerard Schwarz
Master Performances

Over the years, during multiple Schubertiades, Schwarz recorded Symphony Nos. 3, 5, 8 and 9. This was unique because Schubert’s symphonies were not performed during the festivals in his lifetime, and he never heard Symphony No. 9 himself. Symphony Nos. 5 and 8 were released close to their performance dates, and No. 3 became part of Naxos’ Gerard Schwarz Collection, released in 2017. Months after that 30-disc set’s release, audio engineer Marc Aubort found three copies of the now-30-year-old performance of Symphony No. 9 (The Great). The first two copies, which were on Beta format, disintegrated during the transfer process. But the final copy worked, and the long-lost recording was released.

“You wonder as an artist, ‘I played these; I would love to listen,’” said Schwarz about finding past recordings. “It’s great to experience your own ideas about music. It is very interesting. We who care about great art — listen to music over and over.”

The recording is somewhat controversial. Schwarz and his ensemble observe all repeats in the symphony, as Schubert originally intended, which extends the work’s duration from 45 minutes to about an hour.

“Through repetition, we can see what Schubert was actually doing,” he said about following a different path than other conductors.

Along with following the repeats, the performance uses a small chamber orchestra that is similar to the size of the ensemble that Schubert would have used.

Overall, the recording is a piece of history, not only for Schwarz and the New York Chamber Orchestra but for classical music enthusiasts who enjoy historically accurate performances. While Schwarz said he would do some things differently with the symphony today, the recording stays true to his conducting philosophy.

“I try to do what the composer asked,” he said. “But I also know that the audience is not sitting there with a score checking. I do not want to ignore the audience.” 


Gerard Schwarz — Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 9 (Master Performances - digital)

Gerard Schwarz (official site)