March 8, 2023

Glowing praise for Gemma New's performance with the RSNO and Jess Gillam

The Scotsman wrote:

A splash of jazz, a slice of anarchic avant-garderie, even a generous measure of live painting – the eclectic ingredients shaken together in the potent cocktail of the RSNO’s outing under New Zealand conductor Gemma New really shouldn’t have worked. But they did, magnificently, in a concert that was as unashamedly entertaining as it was intoxicating – and genuinely moving too.

And any concerns that the live painting from artist James Mayhew might distract from New’s vivid, glowing account of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition were swiftly dispelled: in fact, painter and conductor ensured that image and sound clicked together seamlessly. Mayhew choreographed his brush strokes meaningfully to New’s vigorous performance, conjuring a grotesque, Klee-ish Gnomus, a gleefully cartoonish Hut on Fowl’s Legs, and macabre glowing skulls to haunt the Catacombs. Maybe not what you’d want to experience every time you hear Mussorgsky’s Pictures, but it was nonetheless a revelation.

The Herald wrote:

Gillam’s was not the only RSNO debut, however, with New Zealand-born conductor Gemma New on the podium for the first time. Principal conductor of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, she has made much of her career in the United States, where she is currently Principal Guest Conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. A dynamo on stage, she treated us to a full-blooded account of Gershwin’s An American in Paris, which was wittily preceded by a snippet of the score of Ligeti’s Le Grande Macabre. While the Gershwin features old-fashioned car-horns in the percussion section, the Ligeti required three of those players to play a dozen of them, with hands and feet, in a deft, fun opening fanfare.

Bachtrack wrote:

What a smorgasbord this concert was! Five pieces, each about as different to one another as it’s possible to get, presented back-to-back and played thrillingly. If I felt worn out by the end then how must the musicians have felt?! The programme ranged from the absurdist nihilism of Ligeti to the triumphal grandeur of Mussorgsky’s Great Gate in Pictures at an Exhibition.

American in Paris is so darned attractive to listen to that it’s easy to forget just how brilliantly orchestrated it is. Hearing it played like this was a terrific reminder, with its swooning strings, glowing brass and silky woodwinds, not to mention the array of percussion that sprinkled delightful details all over the score. Principal trumpet Christopher Hart might have drawn the most attention with his gorgeously sleazy solo, but all the orchestra's solo moments sounded terrific, and conductor Gemma New made a virtue of the work’s eclecticism by letting each section sing on its own terms.