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Q&A | 34 Questions For Gemma New

By Ludwig Van on October 13, 2016

Gemma New (Photo courtesy the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra)
Gemma New (Photo courtesy the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra)

Every so often MT poses 60 questions to a local or visiting artist in Toronto who has made our classical music community that much more interesting. They pick and choose. The minimum response is 20 answers. A kind of Rorschach personality test, if you will.

Gemma New embodies everything we want in a music director,” says HPO chairman of the board Robert Savage.  “She’s an outstanding musician and an experienced conductor; she’s also smart and creative. And on a personal level, she’s warm and down-to-earth.

Steeltown’s Hamilton Philharmonic are noticeably proud of their new Music Director. We can’t blame them. In a professional orchestral marketplace which includes only four female conductors leading a total of 46 orchestra’s in Canada, her appointment puts them in rarefied company.

Born in New Zealand, Gemma New’s formal appointments include Music Director with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and Resident Conductor for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. She also frequents the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio, and will serve as guest conductor this season with the Malmö SymfoniOrkester in Malmö, Sweden, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra in Winnipeg, Canada. How she finds the time to sleep we’ll never know….

What are three things about Hamilton that make you want to live there?

The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, the delicious and diverse cuisine in Hamilton, and the cool arts culture in Hamilton.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue anywhere

My favorite hall would be the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, CA.

Your favourite sound?

I love dogs, so while most people find the sound of barking dogs a nuisance, I quite enjoy it.

Your least favourite sound?

Coughs and sniffs, especially when I have just embarked onto an airplane.

Your favourite smells?

New Zealand air. You can smell the sea salt, earth, trees & moss, and it is incredibly fresh smelling.

The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair?

I recently got a big roller hair brush stuck in my hair. It took 3 hours, a trip to a friend’s house, and scissors, to get it out.

Is there a local music store that could sell you anything?

I like visiting DrDisc Hamilton, as their owner Mark is really wonderful and welcoming, and this store has an extensive collection of  interesting CDs and records.

If you could board a plane this afternoon, where would it be taking you?

I’d go home to see my family and friends in Wellington, New Zealand.

The strangest place you’ve ever been to?

I once worked at a music festival in the middle of the USA, where the accommodation was in a crudely renovated ex-hospital, full of critters and an abandoned wing that stored the old utensils and beds. It was super creepy, and I didn’t turn the light off…ever.

The three books that you read that made an impact on you in your formative years?

While growing up I enjoyed a range of books: fantasy (J. R. R. Tolkien, Phillip Pullman, J.K. Rowling or Brian Jacques), non-fiction (I loved National Geographic, or books like The Theory of Everything by Stephen Hawking) and I also loved English novels by authors like Jane Austin, Thomas Hardy, and Emily Bronte.

Whose musical style do you covet?

I really admire the conducting style of Claudio Abbado and Carlos Kleiber. However, we all have to find our own natural style, according to our physical build and way of communication.

Where was the last place you traveled to for work or pleasure?

I have roughly four ‘home cities’ right now: Hamilton, Miami Beach, St. Louis and New York/New Jersey. Life is always work and pleasure at the same time, and I am always traveling!

What is your biggest phobia?

Spiders – one of the (many) reasons why New Zealand is so much better than Australia, is that we don’t have many of these.

Where did you go to school?

I went to the same school for my entire childhood, and it was just 5 minutes walk from my house – the name of it is Samuel Marsden Collegiate School. I really enjoyed my time there and made good life-long friends.

What did you major in as an undergraduate?

I started out with a double degree: a BSc in Physics/Mathematics, and a BMus in Violin Performance. The Mathematics was a pretty fun diversion from music. I had about a year more to finish them both, but when I got the opportunity to pursue conducting in the USA, I went for it.

The cliché that you overuse?

Always look on the bright side.

The strangest talent that you possess?

Due to traveling a lot and not having a car, I have developed a knack for quickly navigating the best, cheapest and fastest routes of public transit.

Shoe of choice?


The different career path that you could have gone on?

If the conducting hadn’t taken off I probably would have gone overseas to study post-graduate physics or mathematics. I was always fascinated in the Universe and when I was at school I wanted to study dark matter.

Your ancestry?

English, Scottish, Irish, Spanish.

Your major character flaw?

I am terrible at cooking (my brother stole this talent, he is a superb professional chef!).

The character flaw in others that you can’t abide?

Rudeness, but I do try to understand that these people may be dealing with underlying challenges in another part of their life.

What is the best thing about your work?

At the end of a concert night, if we have done a great job, there is this wonderful sense that we all came together to create something beautiful, meaningful and powerful.

What is the worst thing about your work?


The relatively normal piece of clothing that you believe you’d look the most ridiculous in?

A dress.

What are you listening to as you answer these questions?

Nothing, music is very distracting and I am trying to concentrate!

What musical instrument do you secretly long to play?


What sport did you give up and why?

In New Zealand we have the game called netball, and I played the position of Center at high school. I think I stopped it because it conflicted with playing the violin in youth orchestra.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

When I feel overwhelmed about my work load, I remember Gandalf’s words from Lord of the Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” It helps me sort out my priorities.

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in?

Getting lost in a cave in New Zealand.

The thing that makes you the happiest?

Spending time with my family and friends, music, sunshine, being surrounded by peaceful and beautiful nature, chocolate, Bernese Mountain Dogs…the list goes on.

Three things of no monetary value that you own and will keep dearly until you die?

People who know me, know that I’m not a very material person. In fact, I have a real talent in losing things. I have to be very vigilant to not lose anything too important!

The strangest road you’ve ever travelled?

Come to New Zealand and we will show you an abundance of strange roads! The narrower, steeper, the more twists and turns, the better.

The best way to die?


For more in our Q&A Series, click HERE.


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