Late bloomer now an old pro

January 15, 1999

Elizabeth SchulzeBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

Elizabeth Schulze, the third of four Maryland Symphony Orchestra music director candidates, says her path to becoming a conductor was not the usual route.

At 41, she says she's actually happy to be in her 40s. "I started late."

[cont. from lifestyle]

"Classical music is what I heard most and most frequently," Schulze says. The daughter of college English professors, Schulze grew up without television, and comic books were discouraged.

"I was immersed in culture from the time I was born," she says. But she wasn't unaware of popular music. She says she loved musicals, especially "The Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins."


Schulze began taking violin lessons from the "nice lady down the street" at 7, an age nowadays she says would be considered late. She majored in violin during her high school years at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, but took no advanced music classes while earning a degree in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College.

Although she loved the violin, Schulze says she needed to find a niche for which she had a passion. It was during college that she found a model - Tamara Brooks, the woman who conducted Bryn Mawr's orchestras and choruses. Schulze didn't start conducting until her junior year, but she discovered that conducting was what touched her. Conducting challenges her on an intellectual, musical and spiritual level, she says.

She had to make up for her late start by taking three years of private music theory classes after college. She's never slowed down since. Schulze has graduate degrees in orchestral and choral conducting and she's worked with Seiji Ozawa, Gustav Meier and Leonard Bernstein. She was Northwestern University's first doctoral fellow in orchestral conducting and will serve as guest artist-in-residence there this spring.

Schulze recalls a life-changing backstage meeting with Bernstein after a performance of Brahms' fourth symphony. Bernstein, who died in 1990, was about 70 years old. He recognized Schulze from her two-week program at Tanglewood and told her that something special had happened during the evening's performance, saying "Brahams taught us something," she recalls.

From that, with even an old master being able to learn something from the music, Schulze understood that her journey in music would be a life journey - "a long and glorious journey."

Her performances with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra are the next stop.

Schulze loves the prospect of talking to the audience before the concert. "I have a passion for music, and I just love to talk about it."

During her seven-year stint as music director and conductor of the Kenosha Symphony Orchestra in Wisconsin, Shulze worked with Barry Tuckwell, the MSO's founding music director.

"What a gift he's given Hagerstown," she says.

The MSO has a wonderful reputation, Schulze says. She's looking forward to meeting the orchestra and seeing if it's as good as it looks on paper. Schulze, who is single, compares the relationship of a music director and orchestra to a marriage. The music director has to fit in with the community and the organization and be able to inspire the musicians.

"The most important thing for the music director is to be the opportunity for excellent music-making," according to Schulze. She also believes that the music director is a spokesperson for the orchestra, letting people know that it's theirs. Everyone should be able to have an evening of just being transported by the music.

"It's not for some duke or a few people. It's the American way," she says.

Programming is a challenge, not a struggle for Schulze.

"I think it's important that we not turn our backs on music written in the 20th century, or else we'll lose who we are," Schulze says. But she's not out to shock audiences. The music must be presented in a context in which it can be understood. "I have to be moved."

Schulze's musical interests are wide, and music is where she goes for entertainment. She doesn't listen to much classical music in her leisure time because it's like work - she's always analyzing. Julie Andrews' singing always was Schulze's first love, and she loves jazz of the type of Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker and John Coltrane. Schulze says she's not uncomfortable with pop music, and although her busy schedule doesn't leave much time for it, she loves to dance and enjoys getting out on the floor to "boogie."

Schulze will conduct the orchestra and soloist Rochelle Ellis in performance of Richard Strauss' "Four Last Songs" this weekend. The two woman have worked together before.

"I just think the world of her. She's a marvelous singer and a marvelous musician," Schulze says.

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