Raising the Baton for Women

Karina Canellakis

Karina Canellakis

Standing on the illuminated podium at Hamilton Place, with eager eyes watching in anticipation for the evening’s concert, the conductor has complete control over the orchestra. The HPO has brought many amazing guest conductors this season and two of our upcoming concerts feature something more unique in orchestral music. Two brilliant female conductors will hold the baton this season to conduct our talented HPO musicians. Gemma New conducts HPO’s April 26 Pastorale, and Karina Canellakis conducts HPO’s March 1 Cirque de la Symphonie.

Traditionally speaking, orchestral conductors are predominately male. However, women like Gemma New and Karina Cannellakis are breaking through historic barriers with their fine musical skills and impressive performances. Karina holds a Bachelors degree in violin from the Curtis Institute of Music and a Masters degree in orchestral conducting from the esteemed Juilliard School. She won the 2013 Charles Schiff Conducting Award for outstanding achievement in orchestral conducting, as well as the American Conductors Award, Bruno Walter Memorial Scholarship and Isidore Komanoff Award.

Gemma New was named by WQXR, New York’s classic music radio station, as “one of the top five women conductors on the rise.” Gemma was raised to believe that women can do whatever they want as long as they have the drive, talent and determination. Gemma started playing the violin when she was five years old. She studied conducting throughout her violin degree and got jobs with youth orchestras and operas as assistant conductor.

Gemma New conducting publicity photo

Gemma New

Gemma loved conducting right away and knew it was her passion. It has always been her number one focus and she completed her Masters in Conducting at Baltimore University. Gemma admits that when she goes to a festival or masterclass it is very noticeable that she is the only female in the studio, but no one singles her out. There is a social issue that is still apparent, but focussing on music and working hard has led others to respect her work. Controversy over women not having the same opportunity as men still exists, but it has been continuously dissolving over the years. “By now people are very accepting,” Gemma says. Gemma enjoys meeting other female conductors and says, “Meeting Karina was great. We understand that there aren’t many of us and that helps us to be supportive to each other.”

Gemma’s advice for aspiring female conductors is to “work hard and study as much as you can. There are great conducting graduate programs and going to rehearsals to learn as much as you can from professional orchestra’s by asking questions is important.” Studying music is Gemma’s motivation and she says, “Going through why these pieces are played so often and why they touch people from all different generations throughout many years of history inspires me.”

Being a conductor involves continuously learning “ways to understanding music to communicate styles and ideas with the audience and musicians on a deeper level.” Gemma loves the program on April 26 stating, “I’m really excited to work with Martin Beaver on the Violin Concerto because I played it when I was in university on the violin. It’s a beautiful piece about the countryside and a staple of history.”

Watch Karina and Gemma in action here:


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