Whenever Maria Schneider conducts her orchestra, she goes out of her way to avoid conforming to any specific genre. In a concert presented by the Penn State Center for the Performing Arts on April 14 at Eisenhower Auditorium, the Grammy Award-winning composer and band leader will ensure that her 18-piece orchestra maintains the spirit of originality that makes it so special.
“I have had a lot of opportunities to travel and work with musicians from many different countries and, for any creative person, all of those experiences manage to appear in your work,” Schneider said. “Since my experiences have been pretty varied and maybe even a little unusual, they come together in a unique way.”
The Grammy Award that Schneider won in 2005 was not only a monumental moment for her, but also served as a wake-up call to the music industry. “Concert in the Garden” received the best large ensemble album Grammy and was produced by ArtistShare, making it the first record to be crowdsourced by fans and sold exclusively through the Internet to snag the honor. Today, almost all music is consumed through the Internet, but more than a decade ago, this approach to a release was rather groundbreaking. The accolades that accompanied the award were eye-opening.
“Winning that first Grammy was really wonderful and it meant a lot — it’s sort of this mark of success that you have known about ever since you were a kid and something that I fantasized about. I received the award for work that I felt very proud of,” Schneider said. “With that record we were also bucking the system as the first fan-funded album to win a Grammy and nobody was yet doing that. It was really meaningful and a pretty huge event for me.
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“The award also changed people’s perception of me, although not among musicians,” Schneider added. “Musicians know that there are thousands of incredible musicians that never even get nominated for a Grammy, so it’s not the absolute marker of being a great musician or not, but in the eyes of the outside world, the award is this ultimate stamp of approval. It’s something that I will never take for granted.”
This year, Schneider won two more Grammys. One of those was for her work with the late David Bowie on the song, “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).” Their original collaboration was initially released as a stand-alone single, before being rerecorded and released on Bowie’s final album, “Blackstar.” For Schneider, writing and recording alongside the iconic Bowie was one of the highlights in her storied career.
“Working with David was really wonderful. He was just so open and he loved to take on risks, adventure and trying on new things,” Schneider said. “It was really good for me to be around that kind of fearless energy that he had. I was very lucky to get to work with such a person.
“What was truly great for me was the experience of working with him as an artist,” Schneider noted. “He was a genius artist and it was extraordinary to get to work with this someone of his stature. Even if he wasn’t David Bowie, he was so talented and amazing that he would have been incredible even if nobody knew him. Even amidst all of the fame that he had, he was still so appreciative and was such a sincerely nice person with a real love for making music. It was just so much fun and something that I also think about. Sometimes I’ll look over at my piano and just think, ‘Man, David Bowie and I were sitting there working on this music together, that’s crazy!’ ”
Although her studio output has earned Schneider’s orchestra plenty of praise, it really shines once it takes the stage. The risks that Schneider and the musicians take help keep the concerts fresh and energetic for both the performers and the audience. Schneider prides herself on the daring chances that she is able to take in a live setting.
“Having the band play my music differently every time and the interaction that they have with the music and each other, their willingness to take risks is what I love about music more than anything,” Schneider said. “When people see the band, you can see how alive the performers are, it’s really why I love doing this. The joy of watching the band outdo and surprise themselves is so fun and very special. We have a very special group and I am lucky to have them playing my music.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Maria Schneider Orchestra,
- When: 7:30 p.m. April 14
- Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, Univeristy Park
- Info: www.cpa.psu.edu