Five questions with New Zealand-born WYSO conductor Gemma New

On Sunday, July 30, Gemma New will conduct the World Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) in a program including works by Auerbach and Shostakovich. Here, the conductor shares what inspired her to begin conducting and gives advice to young musicians.

A blonde-haired female conductor leads an orchestra.

On Sunday, July 30, Gemma New will conduct the World Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) as they perform Lera Auerbach’s “Icarus” and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 in E Minor. Born in New Zealand, New is 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.

Here, New shares what inspires her as a conductor and offers advice to young musicians.

When did you know you wanted to become a conductor?
When I was a young violinist I played in a youth orchestra that had three conductors who shared the rehearsals and program. I became fascinated with the way they each showed their personality, experience, and in turn the relationship they had with the orchestra. At my high school we arranged a surprise performance to thank a music teacher who was leaving. Being concertmaster at the time, it was my duty to conduct. I immediately loved the process and I haven't looked back! 

What is one of your favorite pieces to conduct and why?
I recently conducted Mahler's Symphony No. 3 in D Minor for the first time and it was one of my favorite musical experiences. The last movement is informally titled "What Love Tells Me." The strings opening is warm, the interweaving conversation between the voices is so kind and generous, and the tender wind and brass procession is spine-tingling. 

Where do you find your inspiration as a musician? 
There's a lot to be inspired by in the score in preparation for the first rehearsal. After that, it's the musicians onstage who inspire me. 

What are you looking forward to most about working with Interlochen students this summer? 
I'm looking forward to exploring Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 with the orchestra at Interlochen; we have a fantastic program. The Auerbach is also a really intense, brilliant piece that I'm looking forward to working on with our orchestra. 

What advice would you give to a young person who is considering going into conducting?
The first piece of advice I got when I said I wanted to conduct was "play your instrument as much as you can, as long as you can." That was pretty good advice! The more repertoire you play in the orchestra, the better your understanding will be as a conductor. I remember playing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 when I was in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra National Youth Orchestra. It was an amazing experience with friends who have now become colleagues all around the world, and conductor Simon Streatfeild who had such a wonderful experience with Shostakovich directly. I hope we will have a great time with the symphony this week!

Gemma New will conduct the World Youth Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, July 30, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. Get tickets here, watch the webcast, or learn more about Interlochen Arts Camp.