Schmieder comes to Boyer after occupying academic chairs at numerous universities in Texas and Los Angeles. He is also the founding music director and conductor of iPalpiti (Italian for "Heartbeat"), a chamber orchestra of 26 professional international string musicians, aged 18 to 30, many of whom are his former students.
Schmieder and iPalpiti are presenting a concert, "Jewels of Russia," on Monday, March 5, at 8 p.m., at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City, and, two days later, at Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Schmieder, a particularly gracious, expansive and elegant person, discussed his life, evolution as a violin virtuoso and teacher, philosophy of performance as a conductor, passionate commitment to music education and his strong Jewish identity.
Born in Lvov, Soviet Union, 58 years ago into a proud Jewish family, Schmieder began studying violin at age 5. His musical studies took him from St. Petersburg to Moscow, where he spent his teenage years. He petitioned to leave the former Soviet Union in 1972, became a refusenik for seven years, and ultimately received his visa to Israel in 1979.
Change of plans
While on a train in Vienna, his wife and young daughter abruptly decided to come to the United States, after being startled by the presence of gun-toting security personnel placed near the train to protect new immigrants to Israel. Schmieder and his family settled in Chicago, where he began to perform and teach.
Recalls Schmieder: "I was raised in a proud Jewish family. My father, a lifelong Zionist, taught Hebrew in the Russian-Jewish underground. He was upset that we never settled in Israel. I conduct and give master classes at the Rubin Academy in Tel Aviv and at the Music Academy of the Hebrew University [in Jerusalem] as often as possible."
After teaching at Lamar and Rice Universities in Texas, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Schmieder was approached by Temple University. He agreed to come here because Temple shared his motives: "The school stands for excellence, and for assisting those who are 'underprivileged.' "
'Talent Can Be Lost'
Schmieder is concerned about the challenges facing young musicians. "It is not easy for performers, especially violinists. They must acquire concert attire, rent a hall, engage a pianist — even the greatest talent can be easily lost," he lamented.
These challenges were shared by the world-famous violinist Lord Yehudi Menuhin, who helped him found the Young Artists International Organization and the iPalpiti Orchestra, the orchestral ensemble of international laureates who receive scholarships in order to perform at the highest level.
Since its founding in 1991, iPalpiti has performed at music festivals in Vienna, Israel, Japan, Belgium and many other worldwide sites. The ensemble has become known for the unified "singing" voice of its sound.
This summer, Schmieder is taking his players to Poland to play music by European Jewish and Israeli composers.
"I will use every opportunity to talk to our audiences about Jewish composers," he said.
Although classically trained as a violinist, Schmieder learned the conducting art "on the way," a rather unusual position for such a well-schooled performer. He consulted with many conductors, and he believes that conductors are truly "born" into their craft.
His conducting role model is Romania's Sergiu Celibidache — the controversial and reclusive music director of the Berlin Philharmonic and conducting teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music — who eschewed recordings while striving to make every concert a "transcendental experience." Celibidache's emphasis on meticulous and long rehearsals has been adopted by Schmieder.
"My players will be in residence at Temple for six days, and we will rehearse for a minimum of six hours per day in order to prepare our spiritual message. It takes time to build unity [of sound and message], and this is what is important," he explained.
These time demands are totally unheard of in the professional symphonic world, where, according to Schmieder, the sounds of all orchestras are virtually indistinguishable from each other.
Schmieder's stated goals are "to promote great music, to help young people, and to communicate timeless spiritual and humanitarian values."