This month’s 20 on 20 features Nick Schwartz! Nick is Principal Bass Trombone at the New York City Ballet, Bass Trombone Faculty at Juilliard Pre-College, Mannes School of Music, Bard College, and Co-Creator of the Third Coast Trombone Retreat.
1. What was your first instrument and how old were you when you started?
A really really beat-up old Yamaha trombone my parents rented me from the local band shop in El Paso, Texas. The slide didn’t even go past 4th position. I didn’t know that wasn’t normal until my band director was confused how I could hit low F’s in fourth position. I guess I just lipped it down?! I was 12 years old.
2. Describe what would be your perfect day?
My perfect day would start with my amazing wife, Daniela Candillari, in our cabin in northern Michigan where we had coffee overlooking the lake. Then I’d go play a round of golf with my dad and have a beer with him overlooking the 18th green. After that, I’d go home and cook a big meal (I LOVE cooking) for my friends and family while listening to music and sharing a few drinks. I’d like to fit in a performance of Walküre or Romeo and Juliet, but it sounds like I won’t have time!
3. Most memorable performance?
Either my first performance of Swan Lake with NYC ballet or my first performance of Walküre with the MET opera. Swan Lake was one of the first ballets I played after I won my job so it felt like a moment where all my hard work had finally paid off, and it was just this sense of “Wow, I’ve actually made it”. Walküre is simply one of the best pieces of music ever written. The last 15 minutes are absolutely stunning and if you don’t get a little choked up, I might need to check you for a pulse.
4. Significant teachers/mentors in your life?
Don Harwood, retired bass trombonist of the NY Philharmonic, was my teacher at Juilliard. He is the true definition of a gentleman and was just such an amazing influence on me in lessons and hearing him on stage. John Engelkes was a huge influence on me when I lived in San Francisco before getting my job in New York. He was so supportive and really taught me how to not only strive to be a great trombonist, but a great musician. I also studied with Tom Riccobono at Interlochen Arts Academy. Without him, I wouldn’t have gotten into Juilliard. Before him, I studied with Kip Hickman who plays in Kalamazoo. He’s a fantastic trombonist and was my earliest influence on the trombone. He pushed me so hard in the right direction and without him, the other teachers after him would have never entered into my life. Also, Randy Hawes was my first exposure to symphonic bass trombone playing. That is such an amazing example of bass trombone playing and to have that be my first real exposure makes me feel very lucky.
5. Something you’ve been meaning to try, but just haven’t gotten around to it?
I want to learn a new language. German or Serbian. German because I like it and I love German and Austrian culture. Serbian because my wife is Serbian and I’d love to get closer to her and her culture through language.
6. Favorite symphony?
Sibelius 2. The second movement is just so heart-wrenching.
7. Who was the last person that made you cry and why?
My dad, indirectly. He is having some health problems and the situation has been very difficult. He’s just such an amazing man and is my biggest hero in the world.
8. If money was no object, what would you buy?
An apartment, I suppose. I live in NYC. I think that’s every New Yorker’s dream!
9. One thing most people don’t know about you?
I’d like to say that I’m a pretty darn good cook, but most people who know me know that, because I absolutely love cooking for people!
10. Opera or ballet?
Opera. But, ballet is absolutely amazing, and there is such great rep in ballet that never gets played anywhere else. I’m pretty lucky that I play in the NYC Ballet and I also perform with the MET opera very regularly.
11. First job?
My first job was the Monterey Symphony in California.
12. Favorite sports team?
I’m a pretty big Michigan State fan. My dad went there and we had season tickets for the football team growing up. It was a great bonding experience for us.
13. If you could invite one person to dinner tonight, who would it be?
My wife. She’s incredible and she’s a conductor so she is on the road a lot. Right now she is conducting at Music Academy of the West and we haven’t been together for about a month, so we are overdue for a nice meal together.
14. Coffee or tea?
Coffee, but tea is pretty awesome too.
15. Favorite book?
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. My wife and I spent our first 3 years of marriage apart (she was in Slovenia and I was in NYC) and we started our own little book club. This is one book that just moved us both so much. My wife, who is also a composer, wrote a piece dedicated to me for bass trombone and piano based on this book called “Extremely Close”. It is a very moving piece and a good tribute to the book I believe.
16. Favorite movie?
Probably Pulp Fiction or Old Boy.
One sister. She lives in western Michigan with a husband and 2 boys. We are only a year apart so we are pretty close.
18. Favorite piece to play?
Walküre or Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet.
19. Least favorite piece to play?
Oh boy…where to start?! Lehár Merry Widow is pretty rough. Debussy is so beautiful, but not so much fun to play for trombone. I’d rather be in the audience. The winner has to be the ballet Harlequinade by Drigo. Great ballet, but the music is the opposite of awesome to play.
20. Dogs or cats?