The Curtis Institute’s winter music series is jamming this month.
With his cropped coat, streets of Amsterdam boots and dense locks of dirty blond hair flopping over his brow, conductor Benjamin Shwartz looked right out of fashion week not a conductor alumnus from the Curtis Institute, where he studied composing just a few years ago.
After four years as resident conductor at the San Francisco Symphony, Ben is the itinerant maestro for orchestras and opera companies all over the world, including the Iceland Symphony.
He is back in his conservatoire for their production of Bellini’s La Sonnambula or The Sleepwalker (look out for those nocturnal vocal emissions). The conductor was on the fly in between rehearsals with three different lead casts of Sonnambula but had time for down time at Curtis studios.
“I really do love doing the full production. Love the collaboration factors with designers. But doing a concert version gets to focus mostly on the music. You don’t have extraneous noises, any musical compromises inevitably you have to make when doing a fully staged opera. Where the singers are placed by the director for instance.”
“I’m not specializing. I do a lot of orchestra music, more than I do opera. Certainly it is a passion of mine as well. I’m in Berlin now, conducting all over the place, mostly in Europe.”
He still loves being in Philly. “I lived here for eight years when I was a student and it is still close to my heart.” In Sonnambula he is energized works with three lead casts “which makes every night different and keeps me flexible.” And the CSO? he said they are young, sometimes erratic, but “without doubt, among the best.”