Q&A with MICHAEL NEWNHAM, Principal Conductor & Music Director
“The first thing that I noticed about SNB was its warm-heartededness. It is a very flexible ensemble, which is open to trying many different styles and ideas. They are passionate about what they do and about the province where they live and people whom they serve. They are also funny. Every time I come to work with them, it’s like coming home.”
What is your main instrument?
Trombone, organ, piano
What inspired you to become a conductor?
I fell in love with orchestral music at a fairly young age, and became interested in trying to help bring a symphonic work to life. When I was a student at Indiana University School of Music, I had the huge fortune of being able to observe Leonard Bernstein work with the conducting students in masterclasses. That was probably the deciding moment for me.
What are your interests outside of music?
Coffee: roasting, brewing. This is a little more than just a hobby for me. Also, cycling.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of being a conductor?
Deciding how to articulate in my head what a piece of music means to me and then trying to communicate that to the other musicians.
What, for you, is the most fulfilling aspect of your life as a conductor?
Seeing how a symphony orchestra can have such enormous positive impact on the life of a community. Music is a life-changing experience for many people, and it’s amazing to be involved in that.
As the conductor of SNB for a number of years now, are there performances or moments that stand out in your memory for their significance?
There are three for me.
- the first time I met the orchestra (now it’s a long time ago) and feeling an enormous connection with them
- Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in 2014
- Our most recent concert (Mozart). The orchestra continues to improve by leaps and bounds.
Who had the biggest influence on you as a musician?
- my conducting teacher: Prof. Boguslaw Madey
- Maestro Georg Tintner – he was one of the world’s greatest musicians, and was the Music Director of Symphony Nova Scotia in the 1990s
- My first piano teacher, June Caskey, in Hamilton, Ontario.
What genre of repertoire do you most enjoy conducting?
Every kind of music has its joys. Of course, I have my own preferences of music, but they change constantly. I’ve had enormous pleasure conducting all kinds of different things, from Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, through to the newest pieces, as well as opera, ballet and pop concerts.
What prompted you to study conducting abroad in Poland? How has it influenced your perception of music?
At the time, Poland was in the Soviet bloc, and was full of political and social unrest. Because of its long history, it had a very large influence on European and world history. There were great living composers and artists living there, as well as great orchestras and conductors. I wanted to learn more about the world, a different culture and language, and I knew that life would not be comfortable. It was the best decision I ever made. It’s hard for me to say specifically how that has changed my perception of music, but I see the world completely differently than I did before I went.
If you could meet one composer (who ever lived), who would it be?
Anyone? How can I possibly decide? Dinner with Rossini? Coffee with Puccini? A beer with Beethoven? Just talk with Tchaikovsky? I think I would feel silly, though, and wouldn’t be able to think of anything to say.
What advice would you give to striving young artist?
Be humble, be cooperative, find ways to continue to fall in love with your art, and never give up.
What are some of the most important lessons you seek to pass on to your audiences?
I don’t have any lessons to give. However, we are here to share music, which is one of the deepest and most honest forms of communication that we have. Let’s care for it.