James Strecker: One of your mentors, Gustav Meier, once told me that he took exception to a remark made by Leonard Bernstein, I think it was, that when he was conducting he felt like the composer of a given work. So how, in your opinion, does a conductor balance personal expression and responsibility to the composer’s intention?
Gemma New: From what you’re saying, I’m not sure Bernstein was implying that he expresses music differently from the composer’s intentions. Perhaps Bernstein was commenting on the process of learning a score. We are often trying to get inside the mind of the composer, to understand the composer’s creative process.
Mr. Meier was my teacher for two years at the Peabody Conservatory, and I greatly cherish the time I had studying with him. He took great care in teaching the details in the score. Every part, every line, needed to be felt or shown.
JS: As a conductor, how exactly do you connect with a work in order to lead an orchestra in its presentation to an audience?
GN: The general score-learning process is analysis (the what, how, why), learning the musicological background of the composer and work, deciding upon the interpretation for the concert at hand, and figuring out how to achieve this interpretation.
JS: Several conductors have told me that listening to recordings of a given work can interfere with one’s interpretation of it. What is your view?
GN: There are many influences on one’s interpretation: score study, playing it on the piano, researching the composer and background of the work, working on the piece as a cover conductor, rehearsing and performing the work as an orchestral player or as a conductor, receiving feedback from players, dealing with the physical realities of the space you will be using, life experience, as well as listening to recordings. Many great influences to lead one to a strong interpretation!