September 14, 2022

Hamilton Spectator Arts features Gemma New on cover

Gemma New opens HPO’s new season with two warhorses and a premiere
By Leonard Turnevicius
The Hamilton Spectator

Two warhorses and a premiere. That’s what opening night of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s new season is made of.

“This is our first full season back after a very difficult and isolating time,” said HPO executive director Kim Varian. “So, we warmly welcome our Hamilton community back to the concert hall as we celebrate the enjoyment of live music performance together once more. With this in mind, we programmed music that is deeply passionate and emotive.”

The concert on Saturday, September 24 at 7:30 p.m. in FirstOntario Concert Hall features HPO music director Gemma New, who appeared but once last season, back in the saddle for two warhorses, Rachmaninoff’s epic “Piano Concerto No. 2” with prize-winning American pianist Daniel Hsu making his Hamilton debut followed after intermission by Tchaikovsky’s powerful “Symphony No. 4.” New and company will start by premiering HPO composer-in-residence Abby Richardson-Schulte’s “The Path Illuminates.”

“All of the pieces for our opening weekend are taking us on dramatic journeys through each composer’s deeply personal and emotional life experiences,” said New. “After the catastrophic failure of his first symphony, Rachmaninoff suffered from crippling depression until a hypnotist (Dr. Nikolai Dahl) helped him write his ‘Piano Concerto No. 2’ where he was finally able to enjoy confidence and success once more. Tchaikovsky had also been dealing with devastation when writing his ‘Symphony No. 4,’ and here he grapples with the force of fate in one’s life. Our composer-in-residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte describes uncertainty, growth and triumph in her new work. With this opening program we acknowledge that life is not easy, but music can be there for us as we need to grieve, heal and celebrate.”

Richardson-Schulte’s 10-minute piece was commissioned and funded by the HPO in celebration of her ten years as composer-in-residence. Composed between January and July of this year, “The Path Illuminates” has a concept, but isn’t programmatic.

“The piece is about the search for a life path,” explained Richardson-Schulte. “We put ourselves out in different ways as we try to find our right place in life. Our lived experiences down to daily thoughts and actions determine who we are. They transform and move us forward. As I know our musicians so well, I took the opportunity of writing many solos representing personal expression and search, and conversational duets and trios throughout. The music builds from these energies.”

The piece has struck a chord with New.

“I love the upbeat and determined character of ‘A Path Illuminates,’ as well as the thoughtful complexity of her thematic explorations,” said New. “Abby is such a treasured member of our HPO and it will be a very special occasion for us all to celebrate her ten years at the HPO.”

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