Interview: Gemma New, Musical Director

Gemma New. Credit: Š Anthony Chang.

Montreal’s I Musici will be hosting Gemma New, the Musical Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, for a concert that will feature work of Bach, John Adams and Felix Mendelssohn. Karan from Montreal Rampage had the opportunity to speak with Gemma about the production. 

Karan: Can you please share with us about your choice of Bach and his music for your first concert in Montreal? What is your personal engagement with his work and if you could share with us the influences it has brought to you?

Gemma New: Crafting a program is often a conversation between the music director, artistic administrator and guest conductor, which was the case here. Fantasia and Fugue was suggested by Jean-Marie Zeitouni, as it seemed like a complimentary addition to the Shaker Loops and Mendelssohn. I was happy to go with the idea.

Shaker Loops is a piece that I particularly resonate with, as I have spent considerable time with John Adams and I always find this piece to be quite a profound spiritual and physical journey for us musicians onstage, which the audience also feels and becomes a part of.

KS: 2019/2020 season has a line up of some really impressive orchestras that you will be conducting from Europe to North America. This must be very exciting for you. What do these type of collaborations mean for you personally and your work?

GN: I have spent considerable time studying the music and life of Mendelssohn in Germany, especially in Leipzig where both Bach and Mendelssohn lived and worked. It has given me a great love and appreciation for both composers’ music, and insight into their inspirations

Working with exceptional orchestral musicians helps me grow as an artist. When I hear their traditions, and connect with their sound, I start to learn so much more about the possibilities with this great music.

KS: New Zealand has an interesting history of classical music and the National Symphony Orchestra having been established right after the World War. How has classical music developed in your country and how does it compare to other music traditions around the world?

GN: I grew up in Wellington, New Zealand where the NZSO is based, so many of these musicians taught me in sectionals & masterclasses, and as a teenager I worked as an usher at the concert hall so that I could listen to many of their concerts. There is a strong orchestral culture in New Zealand, and for a young musician there are many opportunities to play in youth orchestras and grow into working in the professional orchestras in New Zealand. In terms of New Zealand composers, I find their music often reflects upon the natural environment, for example the sea, the mountains, the native flora and fauna, or is inspired by Maori culture.

KS: How do you see Bach’s 17th century music mesh with John Adam’s 20th century compositions?

You could say that both the Bach and the Adams take motifs or thematic material, and then develop these through their own compositional techniques. That is a very broad theme, admittedly; personally I find it amazing how inventive the harmonic structure is in the Bach, and it is equally fascinating to note the harmonic and timbral journey of Shaker Loops.

The concert will be held in the Salle Bourgie of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on February 20th, 2020. More information and tickets can be found here.