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Young composer wins “Award of Excellence” at the National Reflections Contest

posted July 28, 2006





Kevin Schwarzwald, 13, has been a composer since the age of 9. Representing the third generation of a musician family from Austria, Kevin came to the U.S. with his parents when he was 6. He currently studies violin with Michael McLean and piano with Ory Shihor at the Colburn School of Performing Arts. He is also one of the youngest members of the Jr. Philharmonic Orchestra of California that will celebrate its 70th Anniversary concert at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles.  

While attending Paul Revere Middle School in Brentwood, California, Kevin had heard about the Reflections Program, which is an arts contest organized every year, since 1969, by the PTA around the country. This years theme was “I wonder why?”. Inspired by the challenge, Kevin composed a piece for string ensemble entitled “Why Not Peace” and submitted it. After winning at the district and state levels, Kevin was invited to receive the state award at a ceremony at the Anaheim Convention Center. The big surprise came during that ceremony, after all awards had been presented and the speaker announced: “Before we leave I have an announcement to make. We just received the results of the national level from national PTA. Here they are. And the “Award of Excellence” for music composition at the national level goes to Kevin Schwarzwald.“ Kevin is the first student in Paul Revere history to bring home this award for the school. 

The first U.S. performance of Kevin’s piece was staged during Paul Revere’s end of the school year concert and performed by the schools Chamber Orchestra. The first European performance was July 21, 2006 in Austria, by the Chamber Orchestra of the Austrian Master Classes, a music academy that Kevin is attending this summer, along with other young artists from 14 different nations. He comments on his experience at the AMC. “First we meet through music and we discover that despite speaking different languages, coming from different countries, even cultural backgrounds – we have so many things in common and can also appreciate the differences. I made a lot of new friends here.” 

When asked who his favorite composers are, Kevin answers without hesitation: “Mozart, John Williams, and Gordon Goodwin,” thus bridging the gap between two continents and 250 years of music history. 

Thanks to his recent achievement a wish came true for the young composer. As a special  surprise, Kevin was invited to go to Capitol Recording Studios in Hollywood and watch Grammy-winning composer Gordon Goodwin (Gordon won a Grammy this year in "The Best Instrumental Arrangement" category” for his big band arrangements for the film soundtrack of "The Incredibles") conduct the original score for the animated Warner Brothers movie “Bah Humduck”, which will come out as a DVD for Christmas release.  

“What greater present could you get,” said Kevin, “than watching a master of music closely at work?” Now freshly motivated, Kevin has started to work on his next orchestra piece. 

Kevin is a true cosmopolitan with a European Heart. As an Austrian, born in Paris and living in Los Angeles, he speaks three languages and loves to cook Austrian and French food.  

What does he like most about the United States?: ”Baseball, Hot Dogs, and Roller Coasters.” What does he like most about Austria?: “Skiing, Schnitzel and Kaiserschmarren” (a traditional Austrian dessert which was the favorite of  Emperor Franz Joseph I.)

The following interview was conducted over the phone: 

Kevin, first of all I want to congratulate you on your “Award of Excellence” for music composition at the National Reflections Contest. It says that the award came as a big surprise to you. What went through your mind when they called your name? 

I thought they made a mistake because I did not expect that.  

Your composition, a piece for string ensemble, is entitled “Why not peace?” Sadly, it has again become a very pressing question with regard to the recent development in the Mid-East. Does your composition refer to a particular historic event or what made you write this piece? 

It refers to just general. Why could we not have peace in the world because it would be so much better.  

“Why not Peace” was performed in the US and just recently in Austria. How is the Austrian audience different from the one in America? 

There is a difference because in the US it was pretty much in front of my school. These were all people that knew me. So most of the people gave me feedback on the piece.  

In Austria, though, a lot of people walked up to me and said, “Great piece!” and like that. 

How did it come about? 

I sent the director of the institution there [Austrian Master Classes, a music academy] a copy of my piece because he wanted to hear it. They listened to it and decided to play it. However, I had to modify it a little bit because it was a little hard for anything apart from the philharmonic. I didn’t realize it because it was written on the computer but when I had to play it, wow, it was way too hard.  

[Actually it was played at the final concert of the Austrian Master Classes this week,] 

Did they record there?  

Yes, every year they make a CD of the final concert and my piece is going to be on there.  

Kevin, you are a 13-year-old teenager. Being the child prodigy and the increasingly famous musician that you are, can you still do the things regular teenagers do?  

Of course. There is not a big difference. I mean I practice the piano two hours a day and the rest is pretty much whatever I want. I play computer games, go outside and play with my friends. 

I’ve read that your favorite composers are Mozart, Williams and Goodwin. You actually had the opportunity to meet Goodwin and watch him work. What did you take home with you after this encounter? 

I took home like meeting a great composer, and I learned a lot of some scoring from what he did for this movie.

I wonder whether other great violinists such as German-born Anne-Sophie Mutter or Romanian-born Lenuta Ciulei inspire you. Who are your greatest influences in music?

I really like to listen to and try to copy for example Isaac Stern* and a Hungarian violinist by the name of Lakatos**.

What music do you like to listen to?

I like to listen to Jazz and Rock like the Beatles and Beach boys.

You are currently attending a music academy in Austria. What is going to happen after returning to the US?

In Austria I’m just staying for the summer. When I come back, I will start school again. I will resume my lessons with the teachers at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. And I will start my second season with the Junior Philharmonic Orchestra of Southern California. 

What do you miss most about the US when staying in Austria and vice versa?

When I’m in the US I miss kind of everything about Austria. And here I miss my friends and sometimes even school.

Kevin, it says that you like cooking. Tell me what is your favorite dish in the US?

I don’t know a lot about American dishes. But we cook pasta there, spaghetti with tomato sauce.

What is your favorite Austrian dish?

It’s a desert called Kaiserschmarren.

Kevin, thank you very much for the interview.

* Isaac Stern (July 21, 1920 September 22, 2001) is widely considered one of the finest violin virtuosi of the twentieth century. Born in Kremenetz, Ukraine, his family moved to San Francisco when he was ten months old.

** Roby Lakatos, born 1965, the “devil’s fiddler”, is a gypsy violinist from Hungary. He is renowned for his mix of classical music with Hungarian-gypsy music and jazz themes.

Interview was conducted by Martina Law

About Reflections

Designed to enhance rather than replace a quality arts education, the Reflections Program provides opportunities for students to express themselves and to receive positive recognition for their artistic efforts.

2005-2006 Theme:
"I wonder why..."

National PTA believes all children deserve a quality arts education and encourages students to pursue artistic expression through participation in its annual Reflections Program.
Each year, the Reflections Program challenges students to create art that supports a specific theme.

          In its more than 30-year history, the program has encouraged millions of students across the nation and in American schools overseas to explore their artistic talents. The Reflections Program was started in 1969 by then Colorado PTA President Mary Lou Anderson.

          The Reflections Program is to recognize students at the local, council, district, state, and national levels. Entries are first judged at the local level, where selected works are chosen to represent the PTA at each subsequent level—council, district, or state. Once entries reach the state level, the state PTA may select entries to submit to National PTA.


National recognition and honors
Professionals working in literature, musical composition, photography, and visual arts fields volunteer to judge student entries at the national level.

Alone in California, over 62,000 students participated in this Reflection Program.





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