After a two year search, our friends at the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra have finally found their guy! Er… gal. Not only is Gemma an experienced conductor, having recently finished a fellowship at the Los Angeles Philharmonic under charismatic young conductor Gustavo Dudamel, but shes got some pretty interesting ideas on what makes a city great and how the HPO fits in with the initiatives already going on in Hamilton.
We had a chance to chat with her recently and learn a bit more about what shes got in store for Hamiltonians.
What do you think the role of the music director of the city’s orchestra is in our community?
A music director tends to have three main responsibilities, all of equal importance. One role is to work with the orchestra to build artistic excellence, depth and unity. Another is to work with the board, musicians and administration, mainly to create fresh and powerful programs for each season. The third role is to engage with the community as a representative leader of the orchestra. This engagement can be as intimate as chatting with a member of the community, and it can be as public as making a speech about music at civic events.
I love meeting people on a personal level and during my time with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra I hope to get to know many Hamiltonians, learn what they love about music, learn what we can do for them at the HPO, and also share my passion for music with them.
You came to Hamilton to audition for the role of music director in April 2014. What was your experience of Hamilton?
I was deeply touched by the warmth and genuineness of the people of Hamilton. Upon arrival, HPO board member Dermot Nolan and his colleague Gordon took me on a grand town tour that made me feel right at home. I was pleased to see many geographical features that reminded me of my hometown Wellington. A vibrant cultural life in Hamilton was evident — we drove past art galleries, a film set, theatre and dance companies. I was fascinated hearing about the Supercrawl, this being an event I now really want to attend!
On my first day of rehearsals a generous HPO volunteer Brenda, aka Baker Extraordinaire, absolutely made my week by baking me a delicious lemon meringue pie. The orchestra sounded fantastic and it was a delight to experience the fine acoustics and ambience of the Great Hall in Hamilton Place. Having this superb orchestra in the heart of the city, in this fine concert hall, is a fantastic asset for Hamilton and I’m thrilled to be leading the HPO.
What do you think the role of an orchestra is in a community?
An orchestra supports accessibility of classical music in the community. By presenting concerts, by collaborating with other art genres and community groups, by strategically planning the cost of tickets, timing of events, locations, and by choosing the repertoire thoughtfully, an orchestra can become a unifying and cornerstone organization in the community.
I was pleased to see how the HPO has been collaborating with local artists in their Indie Series and is about to hold a residency in the town of Dundas. I’m also a huge fan of chamber music and am really glad the HPO is serving the community with these shorter musician-hosted concerts that allow the audience to interact with the artists on a more personal level.
What are you most looking forward to in joining the HPO?
I’m looking forward to creating meaningful and motivating evenings of music with the HPO and our audiences. I’m also looking forward to getting to know more about Canada, its people and its music.
Why is music, or why should music be important in people’s lives?
In society it’s a given that we should care about our physical health. Our emotional, social and mental wellbeing is of equal importance. Music is nourishment for the soul. It inspires us, motivates us, relaxes us, calms us, and it brings people together.
Studying an instrument or studying music appreciation helps us in other aspects of life also. Many young people learn diligence, sensitivity, listening skills, teamwork, leadership and — above all — creative expression through music. No matter what age we are or where we come from, we can all greatly benefit from having music in our lives.