Busy conductor, businesswoman, have become permanent residents


April 28, 1991|By Henry Scarupa

Call it a love affair with a city.

How else describe the affection that Andrew and Lois Schenck have for Baltimore, the place they have adopted as their hometown?

Mr. Schenck, music director of the Nassau Symphony Orchestra on Long Island with recording and conducting engagements on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific, could have chosen any number of places in which to live.

But he and his wife, now a partner in the real estate firm of Herbert Davis Associates, decided not long ago to "come home."

Baltimore became home for the Schencks and their two sons, Timothy, 22, and Matthew, 20, students at Tufts and Williams, respectively, from 1974 to 1980, when Mr. Schenck was associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and later, founder and music director of the Baltimore Chamber Opera Theatre, now defunct.

Mr. Schenck may be only a faint memory to Baltimore Symphony patrons, but the conductor's recordings of the works of Samuel Barber for the obscure Stradivari label with an orchestra most listeners did not even know existed -- the New Zealand Symphony -- have ignited a business that usually moves with the speed of a glacier. The recordings -- the series started with a performance of Barber's long-suppressed Symphony No. 2 -- sparked interest in an important composer who had been neglected for a generation and who was ripe for re-evaluation.

The recordings have placed Mr. Schenk's face on the cover of the record magazine Fanfare -- a distinction that BSO music director David Zinman has yet to achieve -- and other record companies and orchestras (including the Argo label, which records the BSO) are scrambling to play catch-up.

Now in his third season as music director of the Nassau Symphony, Mr. Schenck, 50, conducts seven concerts a year in the Hofstra University concert hall, in Hempstead, staying at his New York apartment up to two weeks at a time.

"Conducting is a very itinerant profession," Mr. Schenck explains one evening at his town house in Fells Point. "Baltimore was the first place where I lived for more than six years at a time. It made a big difference for us as a family, and our children still feel very much attracted to Baltimore."

For Mr. Schenck, a native of Hawaii who lived in Stuttgart and in West Berlin in the early '60s while on a Fulbright scholarship, studying opera conducting, the neighborhood offers many of the same necessities of life within easy walking distance as do most European cities.

"It' so nice to do simple things like go to the post office and not wait in line," he says. "And going to concerts here is so easy."

His schedule allows Mr. Schenck time for guest conducting, and last February he opened the concert season for the New Zealand Symphony during a four-week guest engagement below the Equator, his third with the orchestra. Coming up in October is an appearance with the Chicago Symphony in Orchestra Hall. In recent years he has served as guest conductor of the Israel Sinfonietta and of the Ljubljana Symphony in Yugoslavia.

Along the way he became musical director of the Atlantic Sinfonietta in New York. On May 14 the group will premiere a new work by Stephen Paulus in that city's St. Peter's Church.

But it's through his recordings that he has made the greatest impact on the nation's musical scene, beginning with his recording of Samuel Barber's piano concerto, together with pianist Ted Joselson and the London Symphony, released in 1985 on the ASV label.

That led to an project to record all the major orchestral and choral works of the late American composer, including his second symphony, which Barber withdrew and tried to suppress. Mr. Schenck located a copy of the score in a London warehouse, and after a two-year correspondence with the estate's attorneys secured permission to record the piece with the New Zealand Symphony. The record quickly jumped onto Billboard's best-seller chart, and Ovation magazine nominated it for "recording of the year" and "best orchestral recording."

It was through Isidore Saslav, formerly concertmaster of the Baltimore Symphony and now with the NZSO, that Mr. Schenck came together with the New Zealand orchestra, resulting in a highly successful artistic relationship that promises additional recordings. Now with the Koch International Classics label, Mr. Schenck has recorded the symphonies of Randall Thompson with the NZSO and will soon be doing the 11 symphonies of the English composer Edmund Rubbra.

During the family's four years in New York, following Baltimore, -- Mrs. Schenck established her own real estate company. That endeavor required her attention seven days a week, and when Mr. Schenck became acting music director of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra in 1986, she gave up the demanding business.

Along the way she wrote a cookbook, "The Desperate Gourmet," sharing shortcuts she had learned from the years of preparing dinners for guests in the little time she had as a working woman. It wasn't long before she began to miss the real estate business, and when Herbert Davis asked her last fall to join him as partner, she accepted.

Because of the frequent travel and the unusual hours, a conductor's lifestyle is hard on families. Conductors often choose not to have children and go through a succession of marriages for this reason. For the Schencks, family has been paramount and they have taken pains to make it work.

"Keeping a balance between careers and family has been the challenge of our lives," says Mrs. Schenck. "It's been extremely difficult. We've each very consciously made sacrifices to one another's careers over the years. But career wasn't the most important thing to either of us even though it was very important. But in the end life works out.

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