For Gary Schneider, there was never any doubt but that his life's work would be music. The only question concerned the area in which he'dspecialize.
He began piano studies at 4 and started directing, hesaid, "shortly thereafter" when he stood on the living room hassock conducting Beethoven on the hi-fi.
At 15, he began composing.
A pianist? A conductor? A composer?Schneider reached the only decision possible: He would specialize inall of them.
At Indiana University, he majored in composition butfrequently conducted theatrical productions and performances of his own works.
Returning to the New York area, he began making the rounds as a young, published composer. But the founders of a Hoboken, N.J., arts festival soon changed his priorities. They tabbed Schneider as the man to put together an orchestra for their event, and the Hoboken Chamber Symphony was born.
"Within three years of its founding, the chamber orchestra was self-supporting," recalled Schneider, whowill be making his debut with the Annapolis Symphony Saturday night.
The musicians, most of them New York City players, grew from a four-concert season to six to as many as 25 performances a year.
Renamed the Hudson Chamber Symphony, the orchestra now plays concerts atNew York's venerable Town Hall and performs throughout New Jersey asone of the state's premiere ensembles. The Chamber Symphony recentlymade its Lincoln Center debut in a performance of the Mozart "Requiem."
"I'm an entrepreneur," said the 34-year-old musician, who willbeconducting works by Beethoven, Maurice Ravel and Dmitri Shostakovich in his Maryland Hall concert with the ASO. "I know how to build anorchestra. I've done it."
Even though the ASO is an established musical entity, Schneider's entrepreneurial instincts assert themselves.
"This is an orchestra ripe for growth in many directions," he said. "With a sold-out concert series and an enthusiastic board, anything can happen. This orchestra could progress even further and becomea major cultural force in the region. It's an exciting prospect."
It is clear from Schneider's biography that whenever and wherever heshows up, he makes his presence felt. It happened in Hoboken, and italso happened in Europe.
In 1988, he was invited to Freiburg, Germany, to conduct a performance of his own Concerto for Jazz Clarinet and Strings at an eclectic summer arts festival that featured jazz, classical music and theater.
Within days of his arrival, he was improvising avant-garde piano music at Freiburg's jazz clubs by night and impressing his players and the festival orchestra.
"It was a bigboost for me," he recalled. "I had guest conducted a few orchestras here in the States, but these European musicians were of particularlyhigh quality. They came from the German radio orchestras, which are excellent, and even from Bayreuth." (Bayreuth is the opera house designed by Richard Wagner that continues to give notable performances of"The Ring" and other Wagnerian operas.)
"There was no reason not to take chances with that orchestra," he added. "They didn't know me.I could do things differently than usual and still be comfortable. Ididn't feel I had to stick to traditional techniques and patterns toget the nuances I wanted.
"Now, I feel free to do these things all the time. It's made me a better conductor."
Schneider's Annapolis audience will see this latest aspirant in the ASO's conducting derby in action with Beethoven's overture to "Fidelio," Ravel's jazzy, coloristic Piano Concerto in G, with Baltimore pianist David Buechner as soloist, and the passionate Fifth Symphony of Shostakovich.
"I chose music I could get inside of and communicate vividly to the audience," he said. "I want to go at it with complete conviction.
"With'Fidelio,' I wanted to include a brief statement about what I can dowith Beethoven. Ravel presents an opportunity to work with the orchestra's principal players, who must respond to all the solo challengesof the piece. In this concerto, the orchestra does far more than just accompany the soloist."
The Shostakovich Fifth is a work he's known and loved all his life. "The audience will know what I'm about when they hear it," he said, smiling.
Schneider's seriousness of purpose manifests itself in other ways. If chosen as the next ASO conductor, the Teaneck, N.J., resident intends to take a room or apartment in Annapolis. "A conductor must establish a physical presence in the community," he insists.
While attending Peter Bay's valedictory ASO concert last spring, Schneider noticed immediately the deplorable acoustics of Maryland Hall. "I felt like I didn't even hear that orchestra," he lamented.
On arriving in Annapolis last week, he immediately rustled up a complement of acoustical panels, which he installedhimself for Saturday's concert.
"I'm just very concerned with thequality of our product," Schneider concluded. "I can't do things half-way."