The great thing about a city like Hamilton is a thriving music scene that makes great music accessible and available to everyone. The really great thing about our music scene is the diversity of genre and style it has. This diversity extends all the way to orchestral music through our beloved Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra (HPO). Not only do we have these world class musicians playing beautiful classical music, we even get to experience them push the boundaries and explore different musical genres. The HPO go out of their way to be approachable and welcoming to new audiences. We’ve seen this happen when they’ve collaborated with artists like Illitry, Basia Bulat, The Medicine Hat, Hachey the MouthPEACE, and others.

In the tradition of pushing the boundaries of classical music, there is a really exciting event happening this week (May 17th) that promises to be an exciting evening of music, video projections, and lights.

Music director Gemma New was brought on two years ago and one of her main goals has been to push the boundaries and to make classical music as accessible and enjoyable for as many people as possible.  She is an incredibly accomplished musician and is only one of three female directors of a major professional orchestra in Canada. She’s also much younger than music directors tend to be.

Gemma is hoping to create an alternative orchestral experience; imagine a cool bar vibe where the music just happens to be classical. This ‘Intimate and Immersive‘ event promises to do just that. Gemma was kind enough to answer a few questions about this event.

Q – Can you tell us about your experience working in Hamilton with the HPO so far?
We’re reaching the end of the second season and it’s been a fantastic experience. I love the music we’ve worked on and the great energy of the musicians. We all share a passion for bringing great music to as many people as possible and it makes it exciting to do my work. The morale and spirit of the orchestra at the HPO is wonderful and I believe that it resonates with audiences; they can pick that up. I’ve been really impressed with the talent here and with everyone that I’ve gotten to work with so far. The experience with the HPO has been really great.

Q – What sorts of work have you been most excited about?
I’ve been working towards creating an orchestral experience that would appeal to the most experienced orchestra fans as well as those who have never attended before. I want to make orchestral music engaging and interesting to everyone regardless of their experience with this type of music. From the moment that people walk in through the door I want them to feel like they are welcomed and they belong. I want to make people feel engaged with what is happening around them. I’m always looking at the big picture and I always want to keep in mind that we are all playing for the audience’s benefit.

Q – Can you tell us a little about the Intimate and Immersive show?
I want to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable; including people who aren’t used to classical music. My hope is that people will come out and try it out. We are building a round stage in the middle of the venue and the audience will be seated around it. The plan is to have the audience physically as close to the musicians as possible. The local band Illitry will record the first half and will then reimagine it and play it back during intermission. We’re asking our musicians to get a drink and to hang out with the audience during intermission. We want the musicians to be accessible and involved with the audience, rather than to have the audience sitting and relaxing. There are a few fun extras planned.
There will also be lights and video to go along with the music; this is designed to compliment the orchestral playing. The video that our creative agency (Rob Carter of the agency TMD) have come up with is wonderful and it will compliment the music so well.

We are building a round stage in the middle of the venue and the audience will be seated around it. The plan is to have the audience physically as close to the musicians as possible.

Q – Have you seen this type of approach to Orchestral music done well in another city?
Yes, I’ve seen something like this in Miami. The audience was engaged and was physically close to the music. It was a wonderful

Q – What do you have planned for the HPO in the next year?
We are doing this show on Wednesday as a bit of an experiment and we are planning another one for December. We’re pushing the boundaries and don’t know exactly how this will go but we are learning and exploring. We’ll see what works from this first show and learn from that. We’re always looking for the best ways to do something.

We have a lot planned and a lot of it has to do with sustaining some of the things we’re already doing. I would love to grow our family program, our indie series, and many of the other things we’re currently doing. There are a lot of exciting things planned that I can’t really get into just yet.

Thank you!

Event information for the HPO: Intimate and Immersive.

Here is an example of the youth orchestra at work: