Special Features

Fathers and Sons, Part 4: Julian Schwarz

By Jeff Janeczko, Curator

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS IN THIS SERIES profiled three prominent musicians, all of whom have left considerable legacies of Jewish music. But none of them ever intended to, at least at the start of their careers. Instead, they aspired to be—and became—part of the tradition of Western art music. Great composers and artistically compelling works spurred their love of music and took precedence over Jewish identity. Then, at some point, each discovered that those two seemingly separate worlds need not be mutually exclusive.

For Julian Schwarz—who credits the Milken Archive with allowing Jewish musicians to come to their Judaism through music—Jewish and artistic have always been intertwined. In some ways, this is not terribly surprising. After all, Julian was a young child when his father became involved in the Milken Archive, had his bar mitzvah around the time of the Archive’s first commercial recording releases, then graduated high school and began conservatory training as the Archive was building a new website and nervously embracing the potential offered by a completely virtual space. In this sense, Julian’s development has run in loose lockstep with that of the Milken Archive.

But Julian is of a different era than our previous subjects. Born in 1991, he grew up at a time when taking pride in one’s roots was accepted, in some cases even encouraged. It was not the world of his father, who never tried to hide or obscure his Jewishness but knew many who did.

Consider too that Julian’s first public performance was of Max Bruch’s Kol nidre, on Yom Kippur, in his family’s Seattle synagogue. (He remembers the event vividly in the podcast accompanying this article.) Though he didn’t know it at the time, this would be the first of many times he would perform Bruch’s Kol nidre on Yom Kippur at Temple De Hirsch Sinai—essentially every subsequent year that he lived in Seattle.

With his father, Gerard, and artistic director Neil Levin at a Milken Archive interview session

With his father, Gerard, and artistic director Neil Levin at a Milken Archive interview session.

Most Jews of Ashkenazi heritage have a special connection to the now-ubiquitous kol nidre melody, as it marks the holiest day on the Jewish calendar and culmination of the High Holy Days. As Neil Levin has observed: “The melody has remained ingrained in collective Ashkenazi Jewish consciousness as a sine qua non of the High Holy Days—more so...and, arguably, more deeply than any other synagogue melody for any occasion.”

But to hear Julian talk about it, kol nidre—Bruch’s version of it—comes across as a kind of recurring theme in the soundtrack of his life. “It’s a piece I’ve lived with longer than any other piece,” he recalls. When we consider how music’s already innate connection to the temporal world affects how we experience time, and the kol nidre’s inexorable relation to the annual cycle of the Jewish calendar, layers upon layers of meaning and significance begin to be revealed.

Earlier this year when the Milken Archive added Julian Schwarz’s recording of Bruch’s Kol nidre (the version with organ accompaniment), Julian became one of the newest and youngest contributors to our growing collection of music of American Jewish experience. Consequently, Gerard and Julian became the most recent of the Milken Archive’s several father-son pairs.

In November 2013, Milken Archive artistic director Neil Levin met with Julian and Gerard Schwarz to discuss the origins of the Kol nidre, Max Bruch, and Julian’s ever-changing relationship with the piece. The fruits of that conversation have been excerpted, edited, and combined with musical examples to produce a podcast that explores how a centuries-old melody has persevered.

 

Learn more about Julian Schwarz on this website or visit www.julianschwarz.com. Watch him perform Ernest Bloch's "From Jewish Life" here.


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About the series: Though the adage "like father, like son" remains a salient expression, the world of music has not produced a wealth famous father-son pairs. This four-part series looks at two very different fathers and sons who have made—and continue to make—significant contributions to music both Jewish and otherwise: Lazar Weiner, the sine qua non of Yiddish art song, and his Pulitzer Prize-winning son, Yehudi Wyner; and Gerard Schwarz, conductor and founder of the All-Star Orchestra, and his son, cellist Julian Schwarz.

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