Paul Hunter
|
March 6, 2016

The Hamilton Spectator

Paul Hunter
|
March 6, 2016

The Hamilton Spectator

Paul Hunter
|
March 6, 2016

The Hamilton Spectator

Gemma New is briefly transported back in time as she mimes quick bow strokes in a passionate burst of air violin.

There is no music but she can feel it.

"You can't even hear yourself, it's so loud," she says, dreamily recounting a magical concert on a distant stage.

"You're just going for it and there's an energy you get from a large group of people playing together, excited about the sound. It's powerful.

"That sound moved me. It moved my soul."

Some search their entire lives for direction. New, 29, had her epiphany when she was 12.

That performance was the eureka moment for the little girl playing first violin in the fourth pair in a New Zealand youth orchestra. The journey it started would bring her here to Hamilton Place as the newest music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

A music director not only conducts but is also the artistic head of an orchestra, taking a leadership role in determining a repertoire, creating a vision for performances and selecting soloists, among other details.

With an ability to connect to both her audience and the musicians, New brings warmth and artistry to the stage; the Spectator called the standing ovation she received after her debut last month "justly deserved." So good and so natural was her first appearance, it's unlikely anyone in the theatre, swept up by what the paper called "a compelling reading of Dmitri Shostakovich's First Symphony," pondered an underlying story.

In New they were also witnessing a rarity — a female conductor.

In Canada, there are only four female music directors out of 46 professional orchestras, according to Orchestras Canada. There are also women who are resident or guest conductors across the nation but not many more than you can count on one hand.

In the U.S., there is only one woman who holds the title of music director among the 24 highest-budget orchestras, reports the League of American Orchestras. That's Marin Alsop at the Baltimore Symphony. Worldwide, the disparity is even more pronounced.

But gender bias didn't enter the mind of a preteen enraptured by music, as New was on that euphoric day in her hometown of Wellington. Two youth orchestras — more than 100 kids — had combined forces and were filling the huge high school hall at Queen Margaret College with "The Great Gate of Kiev," the last movement from Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

"I was just playing my heart out," she recalls. "It sounded glorious. I just thought, this is awesome. I didn't know how but at that moment I literally thought I want to be a part of orchestras for the rest of my life."

New started playing the violin at 5, the piano at 7, and was in orchestras at 9. Her mother played violin for the joy of it and her paternal grandmother played the same instrument professionally for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.