Orchestra returning to Proctors with guest conductor

New Zealander Gemma New to take the baton
New Zealand conductor Gemma New will debut with the Albany Symphony Orchestra at Proctors on Saturday.
New Zealand conductor Gemma New will debut with the Albany Symphony Orchestra at Proctors on Saturday.

Categories: Entertainment

Every year, Albany Symphony Orchestra music director David Alan Miller has a guest conductor for one concert. On Saturday, New Zealand conductor Gemma New will debut with the orchestra at Proctors, the first time the ASO has been at the venue in nearly 20 years.

“David invited me,” New said. “I did not know of him, but then I heard of all the wonderful things the ASO was doing.”

A former violinist, New is currently resident conductor of the St. Louis Symphony and music director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in Ontario, Canada. Her mentors include such notable conductors as Gustavo Dudamel (Los Angeles Philharmonic), Esa-Pekka Salonen (Philharmonia Orchestra of London) and the late Kurt Masur (New York Philharmonic).

“I began playing in youth orchestras at 9. There were three conductors, and each gave different leadership and the players all reacted differently to them. That intrigued me,” New said. “At 15 I had a chance to conduct and it just fit. I founded an orchestra while still in high school and got jobs in New Zealand. It’s been a long road — slow and steady, but I’ve loved every minute.”

New is also a great fan of contemporary music, especially of New Zealand composer/violinist Salina Fisher’s work. Her piece “Tupaia” will receive its U.S. premiere on Saturday.  

“I had known her in the same violin studio in New Zealand and had wanted to work with her for a long time,” New said.

“Tupaia” is Fisher’s first orchestral work that was co-commissioned by the ASO and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, which gave its world premiere April 19. The piece is based on British explorer Capt. James Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific, during which Tupaia, a master Polynesian navigator, helped him plot his course through the islands.

“I did a lot of research,” said Fisher, who is currently getting her master’s at Manhattan School of Music. “Tupaia was an amazing navigator and with his language, which is similar to the Maori language [of New Zealand], he could communicate with Maori. He created a beautiful map that has survived. It’s the first time a Polynesian wrote with a western concept of geography of two ways of understanding space: as sailing distances and as central island points.”

How to transcribe space became Fisher’s inspiration. She created a eight-minute piece with “islands” of sound tied together by shifting notations and repeated gestures, such as brass players exhaling through their instruments, all moving at a steady flow. The score reflects that “journey” with novel notation, which allows the musicians to have more involvement. It also required New to decipher what Fisher was trying to say.

“I need to look at each part to see how they move as a line … to find that thread and the texture,” New said. “It’s taken some analyses to achieve her style. But it’s a treat. The piece has color, texture, atmosphere, a flow of energy. Shimmery instruments, like the glockenspiel, are like stars, with the alto flute being the human character. And the brass exhaling is like the sound at the shore, what we’re used to hearing in New Zealand — it’s a wonderful color.”

More traditional music is also on tap: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with violinist Arnaud Sussmann and the thundering Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3. (“Organ”), during which James Harp will play Proctors’ famous Wurlitzer organ “Goldie.”

New said she’s played the Beethoven — it’s her favorite violin concerto — and she played the Saint-Saens as an orchestral player.

“I adore the Saint-Saens. It’s a magnificent piece,” she said.

Albany Symphony Orchestra

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Proctors
HOW MUCH: $63-$15
MORE INFO: 518-694-3300; www.albanysymphony.com

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