Music generates lots of passion, so much passion that students talented enough to carve out a professional performing career sometimes opt for passion without pressure and choose a vocation far removed from the concert hall.
Case in point is Sven Schreiber, the multitalented Lawrence Central graduate who blew judges away during Purdue’s annual Concerto Competition in February and performed the first movement of Johann Hummel’s “Grand Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra” with the Purdue Symphony at 2:30 p.m. April 21 in Elliott Hall of Music at Purdue.
“Sven is without a doubt the most talented musician I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with - period,” says Jay Gephart, quite a compliment from a conductor who’s been at Purdue six years, who guest conducts numerous student orchestras around the country each year, and who has an extensive background in high school directing including a stint at the perennial Indianapolis music powerhouse, North Central High School.
“For someone his age, Sven plays with such a sense of maturity and knowledge. He’s an intuitive musician with a lot of natural skill. He hasn’t learned over time to how to play these subtle nuances, it just comes naturally,” Gephart adds.
At Purdue – where engineering, science and technology are prized pursuits –Schreiber’s in the driver’s seat as a mechanical engineering major. The junior also co-ops, alternating a semester of on-the-job experience at Aventis Pharmaceuticals in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a semester of class work.
As a high school junior at Lawrence Central, Schreiber figured he’d go to music school. Then he took an advanced placement course in physics, which lit an academic fire and he started looking at engineering. “It kind of changed my mind,” Schreiber recalls. “The teacher really got my interest hooked.”
There was no disappointment over what might have been. Instead, Schreiber experienced a sense of relief. In the highly competitive environs of music school, not to mention the music profession, Schreiber feared getting burned out on music. “And I didn’t want to risk not enjoying it any more,” he says.
Playing the bassoon is as much a part of his daily existence as studying. The desire to make music is so strong that he persuaded members of his Purdue chamber ensemble to rehearse on weekends so he could make the three-hour commute from Cincinnati, during his co-op semesters, to continue his rehearsals with them.
Purdue, which has no school of music, fills its varied ensembles - from orchestra to jazz band to marching band - with students like Schreiber. Each semester, more than 50 percent of its 600 plus musicians are engineering, science or technology majors. “Purdue makes it easy to do music as a hobby. Here you don’t have to worry about getting beat out of all the best ensembles by music majors,” Schreiber says.
His love affair with music began in Germany where his parents put a violin in his hands at age 4. “When I was 12, I wanted to do something new and a little bit different. I was choosing between oboe and bassoon. My music school in Germany offered me a scholarship to learn to play bassoon,” he says. When Schreiber was in eighth grade, his family moved to the United States and he dropped violin to focus solely on bassoon.
“I like the bassoon sound, and I like the fact that it is a really low instrument. With a total range of almost three and a half octaves, it lets you do a lot of different things. The bassoon’s sound is very beautiful, very mellow and soft,” he says.
Considered one of the most difficult instruments to master, bassoon “really takes someone who’s special, who has a good ear and is very left-brained, very technically oriented,” says Gephart, offering a link between the two sides of Schreiber’s personality.
Studies of young children that suggest aptitudes for science and math can be positively linked musical ability seem to play themselves out in Schreiber. Pondering that, the junior says “there are certain things that become a lot easier.”
“It’s a lot easier to understand rhythms when you have a scientific background. The way an instrument works has a lot to do with physics,” says Schreiber, who believes his scientific bent puts him in touch with his instrument on a different level.
“There’s a lot of correlation there that people never see,” he says.
At Purdue, music plays another, non-scientific, role. It keeps him sane. “I just really enjoy music – analyzing it, playing it, listening to it,” he says. “It’s something that keeps me from going nuts with school. Doing it every week gets me away from studying, out of the lab, and keeps me from getting burned out on the rest of my studies.”
Performing the Hummel concerto on April 21 will be the culmination of several dreams. He first encountered the concerto on a CD he bought to check out a Mozart concerto. “Ever since then I’ve been in love with the piece,” he says.
“And I’ve always wanted to play a piece accompanied by an orchestra. It’s so cool to play with full orchestra rather than piano, it’s the feeling that you’re playing the piece the way it was originally intended.”
Hummel’s “Grand Concerto” is both lyrical and technically flashy with lots of rapid 16th notes and octave jumps that show off the bassoon’s extremely broad range. “I like it a lot because it shows off the instrument, and it’s kind of a fun piece, not super serious,” Schreiber says.
Sven Schreiber is the son of Annemarie and Joerg Schreiber of 12340 Old Stone Drive, Indianapolis. Besides participating in classical ensembles at Lawrence Central High School, Schreiber was a member of the New World Symphony in Indianapolis, was selected to several Indiana all-state performing groups, and participated in the Indianapolis Symphony “Side by Side” program.