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He served as Music Director of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart festival between 1982 and 2001. From 2001 to 2006, Schwarz was music director of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO). He also served as Music Director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the New York Chamber Symphony and Music Advisor to Tokyo's Orchard Hall in conjunction with the Tokyo Philharmonic.
In 2007, Schwarz was named music director of the Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina, having served as principal conductor since 2005. There he has expanded the festival's audiences to the largest in its history, enhanced education and programming (to include a composer in residence and three new concert series), and increased collaboration with An Appalachian Summer Festival, where he is artistic partner for symphonic music programming.
Schwarz was born in Weehawken, New Jersey, to Jewish parents. His parents were both medical doctors and gave him many opportunities, one of being able to go to concerts and operas. Schwarz began his trumpeting career at the age of 8. By 12 years of age, he dedicated his life to be a musician. He graduated from New York City's High School of Performing Arts and Juilliard School of Music and began his musical career as a trumpeter, performing until 1973 as principal of the New York Philharmonic under Pierre Boulez, but also began conducting in 1966. In 1971 he won the Young Concert Artists International Auditions. He has been Music Director of several other organizations, most notably of New York's Mostly Mozart Festival, which he led from 1982 to 2001. He was also Music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1978 to 1986.
Schwarz is noted for championing American composers, past and present. The more than 100 recordings he has made with the Seattle Symphony include many American works – in particular, he has won widespread acclaim for his recordings of symphonies and other orchestral works by Walter Piston, Howard Hanson, William Schuman, Alan Hovhaness, and David Diamond. Among the other orchestras which Schwarz has led on his other recordings are the Czech Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the Orchestre National de France. In 2003 he recorded two concertos by Philip Glass: the Cello Concerto (with Julian Lloyd Webber) and the Concerto for Two Timpanists (with Evelyn Glennie and Jonathan Haas with the RLPO). In 1989, he received the Ditson Conductor's Award for his commitment to the performance of American music. He has also recorded all of Mahler's symphonies and Richard Strauss's tone poems with the RLPO.
Schwarz is also noted for his success in building the strength of the orchestra; when he began directing the Seattle Symphony in 1983 it had 5,000 subscribers; as of 2008 it had 35,000. He also spearheaded the effort to build Seattle Symphony's new home, Benaroya Hall. However, his style of leadership and management of the Seattle Symphony has also been controversial among some musicians.
Schwarz has been the Artistic Director of the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, N.C. since 2007.
In 2011, the block around Benaroya Hall was named "Gerard Schwarz Place." A portrait painting of Schwarz by artist Michele Rushworth was unveiled and installed at Benaroya Hall in 2011.
His numerous awards include Musical America's Conductor of the Year in 1994 (the first American to win that award), 14 Grammy nominations, and 5 Emmy nominations (4 of which resulted in Emmy wins) for his performance of Mozart's Requiem on Live from Lincoln Center and performances with the Seattle Symphony on PBS. He received Seattle's City of Music Outstanding Achievement Award for 2010.
- "Gerard Schwarz to step down from Symphony". The Seattle Times. September 10, 2008. Archived from the original on September 13, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
- Henken, John. "Conductor Gerard Schwarz Returns to Familiar Territory". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
- Seattle Times article on 2008-09-10
- Wakin, Daniel J.; Oestreich, James R. (2007-12-16). "A New York Times article on the internal politics of the Seattle Symphony Site". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-03.
- "Biography from Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Site". Archived from the original on 2007-04-25. Retrieved 2007-10-23.
- Seattle Times staff, Carlile, Schwarz, school jazz bandleaders honored by City of Music Awards Archived June 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine., Seattle Times, 2010-09-20. Retrieved 2010-09-30.