Tuesday, May 5, 2015

HPO announces new music director

With symphony seasons starting to wind down for another year, announcements come along about the upcoming season and other exciting news to tantalize subscribers and other patrons to renew for another year.

The Niagara Symphony has one last Masterworks concert of the season next weekend, and I will write about that and their new season announcement in this space next week.

Today, let's look at the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, which has been doing their due diligence the last two years looking for a replacement for former music director Jamie Sommerville, who announced he was leaving the HPO at the end of the 2012-2013 season.

It is never easy going through this process, as people connected to the Niagara Symphony well know. A few seasons back the search to replace former music director Daniel Swift proved a long and difficult task, with the announcement the new music director would be Canadian Bradley Thachuk, who would return to his native country after working several years in the United States.

I remember that season of auditioning prospective music directors well, as the audience was asked to rate each candidate on their performances in both Masterworks and Pops! repertoire.  There were four candidates in all, three men and one woman, Diane Wittry, currently the music director and conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania.

I found all the candidates brought their "A-game" to the podium, as it were, but what Wittry brought was particularly special.  I found her controlled and understated approach to the chosen repertoire quite refreshing, frankly, and well-suited to what the NSO was in need of at the time.

That being said, Maestro Thachuk has put his own unique stamp on the NSO and made the orchestra his own since he took the helm not that many seasons ago.

While the Niagara Symphony missed out on a chance to blaze a new trail with a female music director, they have for many seasons of course benefitted from the considerable talents of associate conductor Laura Thomas, who is for my money one of the better arranger-conductors in the business. Laura has ably handled many of the Pops! and NextGen concerts over the last several seasons.

But down the QEW in Hamilton, it was announced today the new music director for the HPO is a 28-year-old native of New Zealand, violinist and conductor Gemma New.  New has been conducting since her teens, so she is a bit of an old hand at this game.

The press release issued today quotes HPO board chair Robert Savage as saying New is "an outstanding musician and an experienced conductor; she's also smart and creative.  And on a personal level, she's warm and down-to-earth."  He goes on to say Gemma is a great fit not only for the HPO but for the city as a whole.

In addition to conducting the HPO during the 2014/2015 season, all six candidates for the position were also taken to community events in order to meet people.  There was a time this would not even be considered; a conductor and/or music director would own the podium but not be particularly accessible to the community beyond the concert hall.

Could you imagine, say, Toscanini or Reiner hobnobbing with members of the community at a local event?  I can't.  Oh, I am sure they did their part in some small way, but back then I think there was a very clear line of division between the conductor and the audience.

Today, with audience numbers dwindling for many symphony orchestras and those left are getting older, the old rules don't apply anymore.  Like anything else, the role of a music director has had to change and evolve with the times and that means interact with the audience on a more basic, personal level.

Social media has had a big hand in making this change a reality, as many music directors and arts administrators have embraced several platforms through which they can communicate directly with the audience outside of the concert hall.  Those who don't embrace the new reality of social interaction risk losing younger audience members to other forms of entertainment.

Social media allows these music directors and arts administrators to help develop that audience of tomorrow, so it is incumbent on them to be savvy.  I think in the future it will simply be a requirement of the position.

So Gemma, who is quoted in today's release as saying she is "very excited to be coming to Hamilton...I was impressed with the orchestra and all the people I met during my audition", will join that still rather elite circle of female conductors and music directors that includes Thomas, Wittry, Buffalo's JoAnn Falletta and of course, Baltimore's Marin Alsop, among others.

I missed out on seeing Gemma or any of the five other candidates do their thing the past season for the HPO, but hopefully in the fall I will be able to catch a concert or two and hear for myself what attracted Hamilton to Gemma and Gemma to Hamilton.

The 2015-2016 season was also announced today, and along with the big works of Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Mozart, among others, the HPO will also be highlighting major works by 20th-century Russian composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich conducted by Maestro New.

There will be a host of conductors for the upcoming season as Gemma New wraps up her current duties as associate conductor with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and her season debut will be in February of 2016.

I look forward to hearing what she brings to the podium the coming season and beyond, and how a great orchestra responds to this young, talented New Zealander.  Interesting times lie ahead for the HPO and their audience; may the New sounds embrace their future as well as their past.

For ticket information on the coming season or to subscribe, you can call 905-526-7756.

Enjoy the week!

May 5th, 2015.

No comments: