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Gemma New: Together as One Through Music


by Gabriel Paquin-Buki

Orchestras especially are the great example of what humanity can achieve when united.

– Gemma New


Gemma New was born on December 27, 1986, in Wellington, New Zealand. She delved directly into classical music in childhood through violin practice, an instrument her mother and grandmother played before her. She bowed her first notes on the violin at the age of five and not long after, began playing with youth orchestras. At the age of 12, she experienced an epiphany while performing, in a group of about one hundred young musicians, “The Great Gate of Kiev” from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

I was just playing my heart out. 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.

– Gemma New


At fifteen, Gemma New agreed to direct an ensemble at the school she attended. The exercise felt so natural to her that she realized her love for classical music was best embraced on the podium. After some years of study in music and mathematics, in both New Zealand and the United States, in 2011 she obtained the post of Associate Conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Later, in 2015, she became the first female Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra by unanimous decision of its selection committee. The committee was impressed by New’s strong musical background despite her young age, as well as by her understanding of the connections that bind a society with its symphony orchestra.



For Gemma New, orchestral conducting requires as much self-possession as it does knowledge of the repertoire. Indeed, her instrument is not made of wood or brass, but of flesh and blood: “Remember that your instrument is not an object, it’s a large team of highly talented and driven human beings.” The vibes she projects to the musicians before her necessarily have an impact on the way they play. Accordingly, New works considerably better when relaxed, and the results she gets from an orchestra are all the more effective.


A passionate, meticulous, articulate, go-getting and warm-hearted conductor, Gemma New is appreciated by her peers and audiences alike. She usually learns her scores by heart, enabling her to conduct without ever needing to look away from the orchestra. Just to give an idea of the work involved in doing this, some consider that it takes roughly an hour to properly memorize just one page of an orchestral score. Since a concert can span several dozens, even several hundreds of pages of sheet music, New is often up late into the night, still going strong, studying the works she will be conducting.


People who know Gemma New well, know that a cup of tea for her is a source of joy, like hearing the happy barking of a dog. On the other hand, she finds the sound of cracking knuckles or the facile music on the radio rather unpleasant. When she moved to New Jersey some years ago, she brought over 29 boxes containing scores and she secretly dreams of playing the timpani. Gemma New often relaxes to the sounds of Brahms’ choral music and for her, classical music is to mental and emotional health what exercise is to physical health.

What about the need to express feelings without words, the need to relax and take your mind off the stresses of everyday life, the need to be creative and to dream, the need to be inspired by something that is greater than yourself?

– Gemma New