Photo: Anthony Chang
We caught up with upcoming guest conductor Gemma New on what it's like to be considered a "rising star," what inspires her, and what she's most looking forward to about our upcoming program featuring Paul Huang on the Dvořák Violin Concerto, March 29 & 30.
How do you build trust and rapport quickly with each orchestra you lead?
I try to listen carefully and sense the strengths and dynamics within the orchestra. The more I learn about the orchestra as we play together in these first rehearsals, the more I can communicate effectively. Perhaps the most important thing is that I arrive well prepared and with an open mind, and that I encourage a rehearsal environment that is supportive and based on mutual respect.
You have been called a "rising star" in the industry. As a comparatively younger conductor, do you think there is truth to assumptions that some works are interpreted best by more "mature" conductors?
When I first arrived in the US in 2009 to study a Masters in Conducting with Gustav Meier, I was quite scared of Brahms symphonies. How could I possibly understand them as a young person? Fortunately, Mr. Meier tackled those fears head-on, and he had us studying and conducting all of these symphonies, thoroughly and often, throughout the two years I was there. It's also been really helpful being a cover conductor for many excellent conductors and orchestras over the last decade. I do a lot of note-taking, and I will keep these previous experiences in mind when we come to forming interpretive choices in the rehearsal period.
For audiences who may never have heard Brahms Symphony No. 3, what would entice them to attend?
When Gustav Meier shared his love of Brahms with all of us young students he said, sure Brahms's symphonies are mature, but you have to start somewhere! And what I learned over time is that Brahms's music is not unreachable. It is some of the most humanly relatable music: intimate and loving, passionate and awe-inspiring, naturally flowing and inspiringly orchestrated. It touches and moves all of us.
Have you worked with Paul Huang before? What excites you about this upcoming collaboration?
Yes, Paul and I performed Barber's Violin Concerto with the North Carolina Symphony almost 2 years ago, it was fantastic to work with him! I'm excited to hear his rich sound in this Dvorak Violin Concerto.
Any poignant personal stories that connect you with these pieces?
I suggested Mendelssohn's Hebrides, as I thought it would complement the other pieces on the program well. I spent quite a bit of time on a Mendelssohn scholarship in Germany, studying Mendelssohn's music and learning about his incredible life with Mo. Kurt Masur and the staff of the Mendelssohn House in Leipzig. This overture evokes the magnificence of this wild cave, and the swirling power of the ocean and it is a piece that I really love.
What most inspires you?
I think that when we come together and create a beautiful and enriching performance, that is really inspiring to me, and it is a memory that I cherish for a long time.
What do you think about to "center" before a performance like this?
I don't have any rituals, I just try to keep calm, have a concept of the sound and character I'm about to be a part of, and be aware of my breathing before a performance.
Have you ever been to Charlotte?
Yes, I spent a week in Charlotte 8 years ago, serving as cover conductor for Mo. Christopher Warren Green. I'm looking forward to returning to the orchestra, and working on this beautiful program with them!
Gemma New is currently Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Resident Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra. See her conduct Dvořák Violin Concerto on March 29 & 30 with violinist Paul Huang.