Classical-music critic Lloyd Schwartz, who recently marked his 30th year as a Phoenix contributor, first intersected with this publication in March of 1968 — back when the two-year-old paper was still called Boston After Dark.
Schwartz debuted as the subject of an article, not its author. He was in graduate school, playing Trofimov in a Harvard production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. In those days, Phoenix founder and publisher Stephen Mindich also served as the paper’s theater critic. In his review, Mindich declared, “This is Chekhov as Chekhov himself claimed he should be produced.” Schwartz’s portrayal of the perpetual student Trofimov was, Mindich added, “perfectly overzealous.”
Not quite 10 years later, Schwartz appeared as himself, under his own byline, with a piece headlined (with a certain air of laconic majesty) “The Career of Maria Callas.” Assaying more than 40 recordings (from Bellini to Verdi, some of them pirated) as well as live performances (Symphony Hall) and master classes (Juilliard), and drawing on sources as diverse as British critic Desmond Shawe-Taylor and poet Frank Bidart, Schwartz’s take on Callas established such a high standard that — I imagine — he must work very hard indeed to maintain it. Discounting a childhood year of violin lessons, Schwartz is a self-educated musical “amateur,” as was Shawe-Taylor.
He is also a poet with three published volumes of his own and is the co-editor of the new Library of America edition of Elizabeth Bishop’s work, which is due this Valentine’s Day, February 14. Like many an arts worker, Schwartz holds a day job: the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English at UMass Boston. He trumped an already award-rich career when Columbia University honored him with the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for pieces published in the Boston Phoenix.
The standard Schwartz established for himself and his readers in 1977, and for which the Pulitzer Committee saluted him, is on display this week in a review that surveys a quartet of concerts: Sir Colin Davis conducting works by Sir Edward Elgar for the BSO, the latest from the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and the Celebrity Series of Boston, and the appearance at the Gardner Museum of Sasha Cooke, a promising 23-year-old mezzo. It’s vintage Schwartz, aggressively diverse and quietly dazzling.