The person sitting next to illustrator Sol Schwartz at a concert, watches while he busily sketches about 10 pages of drawings (give or take a few) of the musicians he sees. About 99.9% of the time the adjacent person says, “I’ve had just as much fun watching you as listening to the performance.”
It’s takes a real square to tell him he’s annoying or disconcerting, and it happens rarely. Luckily, those at La Musica International Chamber Music Festival appreciate his art as much as he appreciates theirs. He’s been sketching La Musicia musicians since 1987, the year he moved from New York City to Sarasota.
One of his initial attractions to Sarasota was the music culture; Schwartz is a chamber musician himself and plays cello primarily but also dabbles in mandolin and piano.
“I played chamber music for many years, so I’m very familiar with the literature that the La Musica festival performs,” he says. Schwartz toured the world with Amateur Chamber Music Players group: “But I didn’t draw then,” he chuckles, “I haven’t yet mastered how to draw and play at the same time.”
This hobby started in New York when he was drawing musicians at concerts in the program margins. It was his late wife, Lilian Schwartz, who convinced him to start using a sketchbook.
But his history with drawing dates back to when he was a little boy drawing on his father’s shirt cardboards.
La Musica officials caught wind of the work Schwartz was doing, but didn’t approach him about using his work until the 10th anniversary (1996) when they asked him design the anniversary brochure. He attends concerts and sits up front during the rehearsals to sketch. He remembers when the festival still took place at the Historic Asolo Theater — now it takes place at Sarasota Opera House.
People ask him if he listens, and he pulls their leg by responding, “No.” But, “I find it intensifies my listening,” he says. He find that the less attention he pays to his hand, the better the drawing comes out. So the better the music, the less he pays attention to his hand.
Elsewhere, he has sketched artists of Tanglewood Music Center, Shakespeare & Company, Barrington Stage Company and Jacob’s Pillow many major players such as violinist Itzak Perlman, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and dancer/choreographer Mark Morris. In fact, he had an exhibition of his work at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. and the curator called him “The Norman Rockwell of cultural events.” In Sarasota he enjoys sketching GuitarSarasota and Artist Series Concerts in addition to the La Musica festival.
He says he has enough sketchbooks stocked up to make 20 books. But for now, he’s on his fourth. The 168-paged fourth book is called “Drawing Music II: La Musica Festival” and features his sketches that he’s collected every year since 1987.
The 2013 season of La Musica began April 8 and runs through April 19 at Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave. On April 10, Sol Schwartz will present a copy of his book to the Artistic Director and famed violinist Bruno Guirrano, whom he’s drawn countless times, for the musican’s 80th birthday. For more information about the festival, visit lamusicafestival.com. For more information about Sol Schwartz, visit solschwartz.com.