“Smiles and tears.”

That’s how Gerard Schwarz views his farewell concert with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) tonight at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.

“I was a young American conductor when the orchestra named me music director (in 1978),” Schwarz noted during a telephone interview from his Seattle home. “They took a chance on me, and I will never thank those guys (board members Robert DeWitt and Morton Jackson) enough.” Leaving, said Schwarz, “is a difficult thing to do. I’ve never left an orchestra.” Thus, the tears. But why the smiles?

“It seemed that all the time I was in Los Angeles we had financial problems. The orchestra was never able to have a firm footing. That shouldn’t be my concern, of course, but look what happened this season--instead of nine concerts, like always, we ended up doing four.” Financial problems last summer had forced orchestra management to cancel five scheduled events in the Connoisseur Series at Ambassador.

“Every time you turned around, someone was saying, ‘Can’t you do with less rehearsal?’ I never get that in New York.” The latter referred to the 38-year-old former trumpeter’s other chamber group, the Y Chamber Orchestra.

“Life is easier in New York,” he continued. “The orchestra is well supported. We have all our concerts in our own hall. There’s a different climate for raising money there. The city is more interested in philanthropy--not in art so much as philanthropy.


“There, you contribute $5,000 and they send you a note of thanks. You send $5,000 to LACO and you’re a member of the board.

“You know, with this money problem, we’re basically talking small numbers. Some orchestras have up to a $4-million debt. Here, we’re talking about a terrible problem--$150,000. Small dollars. But if you can’t raise the money it becomes the world.”

Schwarz noted that an absence of a financial crisis “might have changed my decision to leave. But every year, we kept questioning ourselves, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t exist.’ That amazes me. And after a while, it gets fatiguing.”

The official explanation from LACO for this parting of the ways involved Schwarz’s desire for more guest conducting. That was true, he said. “You have to do some. Maybe an orchestra is interested in you for the future. Lately, I’ve had no time to conduct in Europe, and I need that.”

Another factor was his commitment to the Seattle Symphony, where Schwarz has completed his first season as music director. “I’ll be with the orchestra 22 weeks next season, so we can have real, significant music made by people working together all the time. I believe in Seattle. It’s a great place for supporting the arts.”

Despite the financial woes he constantly faced in Los Angeles, Schwarz will carry happy memories of his tenure here. “I fondly remember our East Coast tour in 1980, when we were at the Winter Olympics. We played Montreal, New York, Washington, D.C. Making records with the orchestra was also very gratifying, as was playing at Ambassador. And building an audience for our series in El Cajon. At first, they didn’t know who we were. Now, every concert is packed.”

Schwarz looked at what lies ahead for the orchestra he is leaving behind. He said he is not involved in the choice of a successor “in any way, shape or form,” and has never met Iona Brown, the recently appointed music adviser.

The thought of the L.A. Chamber Orchestra facing at least one season minus a music director concerns Schwarz. “Every orchestra gets worried at a time like this, not knowing who’ll come in. The players want to be comfortable. But they have pride and an inner sense of worth. A season of guest conductors won’t hurt them. LACO didn’t go down after (founding director Neville) Marriner left. And it won’t after me. They’ll find a music director better than I am.”

Any predictions? “In a sense, they could stand a young unknown,” Schwarz suggested. “They need someone who will fight for funding. Economically, any new person will have to ask a lot of questions before taking the job.”