Conductor Gemma New, recently named principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony, is in the midst of a meteoric rise in the classical music world, having made recent debuts with the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco and Detroit symphonies, among others. She adds The Philadelphia Orchestra to that list on July 24 when she makes her debut at the Mann Center with Voyage to the Moon: A 50th Anniversary Concert. We asked Gemma a few questions about her career and the program at the Mann.
What does it mean to you to be making your Philadelphia Orchestra debut? I am such a great admirer of The Philadelphia Orchestra! Growing up in New Zealand, I would listen quite avidly to the beautiful recordings of this orchestra. It’s a real privilege.
What do you enjoy most about the city of Philadelphia? Do you have any activities planned during your time here? The only part of Philadelphia where I've spent some real time is the train station, but I have heard so many wonderful things about the city, its history and culture, so I am looking forward to exploring and trying out a Philly cheesesteak.
Do you feel any added pressure when making an orchestra debut versus conducting an ensemble with which you have an established relationship? It’s like meeting a new person for the first time, you have to give it a bit of time to get to know each other through musical conversation, listening, and observing each other. This is such a wonderful and inspiring orchestra, so I'm looking forward to it!
You have done a lot of work with various school, youth, and community programs. Can you tell us about your own experience in youth orchestras and with music education, and how it’s contributed to your current success as a conductor? I grew up playing the violin in as many orchestras as I could successfully audition for, and I will always recommend orchestral playing to young people. Learning an instrument and playing with others helps develop many essential life lessons in young people: leadership, teamwork, listening critically to yourself and to others, expressing emotion and encouraging imagination, creatively solving problems, diligence, passion, and perseverance. When I was 19 I started my first post as conductor for the Christchurch Youth Orchestra in New Zealand. The ensemble went up to age 25, so straight away I was learning what it was to collaborate with others who were more experienced, and finding the right fit for my role as a conductor.
You are a fierce champion of new music. Where do you see new music going and what place can it have in an orchestra’s season and community? I feel that programming is most successful when we build trust between the orchestra and audience over time. Every city and community is different, and it's our responsibility as musicians who know the repertoire well and have done research on contemporary repertoire that is happening all over the world today, to create programs that we know will move people. New music is the music of our time, which gives it every opportunity to be relatable or impactful to our audiences of today.
What kinds of challenges did you face in putting together a program celebrating such a specific occasion? Programming is always a team effort, and the staff of The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Mann Center have been fantastic in finding the right pacing and variety for the program. This program has a very specific theme—to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing—that it was a fun challenge! From movements of Holst's The Planets to the brand new Voyage by Michael Giacchino, I believe we have a perfect summer evening program for our audience to enjoy.
Click here for more information or to buy tickets to Voyage to the Moon: A 50th Anniversary Concert.
Photo by Roy Cox