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New Zealand–born Gemma New is the newly appointed artistic advisor and principal conductor of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. She is also music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. For her first concerts with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra this August, New conducted six programs as part of the NZSO Winter Festival in Wellington and Auckland with soloists Hilary Hahn and Paul Lewis.

The NZSO National Youth Orchestra and NZSO musicians perform Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in C Major ‘Leningrad’ side-by-side with conductor Gemma New in 2021.

How has being a violinist helped you learn how to conduct?

I fell in love with orchestral music and performance while playing the violin in New Zealand youth orchestras. I was attracted to the example that “making music as an orchestra” gives to us all: we can create meaningful and beautiful experiences when we come together and work in harmony. I played in as many orchestras as I could as a young violinist, learning repertoire along the way, learning about ensemble playing and the needs of the string section. 


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When did it become clear that conducting was what you wanted to do?

I had become curious about conducting through playing the violin in youth orchestras around the age of 12, watching conductors during rehearsals and seeing their effects on the orchestra. I wanted to perform music, but as a teenager, I was still trying to find a good way to both fit in and contribute. When I had my first opportunity to conduct at my high school, this way of music making—exploring the score, bringing musicians together—clicked right away. I felt pretty clear it’s what I wanted to continue exploring. 

What is it like on the podium before the first note of a concert, waiting for the audience to be quiet? 

It’s a mixture of calm and energy—the aim is to be focused, channeling only as much energy as is needed and directing it exactly where it needs to be, so that there’s no unnecessary distraction. And every week with a new orchestra and a new program, even when we perform the same program ten times with the same orchestra, every night is a new set of variables. That is what makes live music so exciting!