Getting to know you - an interview with Dina Gilbert, SMI Conductors Program

Dina blog
Dina Gilbert, SMI Conductors Program

AW: A little about you: where are you from, and where is home right now?
DG: I grew up in Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, a little town about an hour from Québec City. My parents weren’t musicians, but they loved music, and my five sisters and I all took piano and singing lessons from a very young age. When I was 16 I moved to Montreal to continue my music studies, and I’ve been living there for 10 years now. It’s a really amazing city!
AW: You have been part of the Summer Music Institute Conductors Workshop in the past, in 2010 and 2011 as an apprentice; and you participated in the Canadian Conductors workshop this winter at the National Arts Centre. Can you tell us a little bit about those experiences, and how they have played a role in your training as a conductor?
DG: I’ve been really fortunate to be able to participate more than once in the NAC’s Conductors Workshop. I’ve taken several conducting courses around the world, but I find the program offered in Ottawa is by far the most interesting because it allows us to explore a large repertoire in depth with the orchestra. I learned a lot in the two summers I participated as an apprentice; Maestro Kiesler is a great teacher, and studying with him is really inspiring. He quickly identifies the areas where each conductor needs improvement, and he suggests solutions for each one. This personalized approach allows us all to achieve our very best!
Last winter I was delighted to accept the invitation to participate in a course offered over several days with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. It was an ideal learning environment: the NAC Orchestra musicians worked actively with the conductors, offering comments and very constructive criticism. I believe it’s the only course of its kind in Canada: as far as I know, no other professional orchestra is as directly involved in training emerging conductors!
The NAC’s Summer Music Institute has played a big part in my professional development, and has provided a learning environment that complements the more academic setting of my master’s and doctoral studies at the Université de Montréal. The valuable experience I acquired in Ottawa was a big factor in my decision to found the Arkea Ensemble. We’re very proud to have completed our second season, and I’m already looking forward to next season.
Without a doubt, each session in Ottawa brings my dream of becoming an orchestra conductor a little closer to reality by allowing me to learn from two dedicated and inspiring conductors: Maestro Kenneth Kiesler and Maestro Pinchas Zukerman.
AW: I understand you conduct a lot of contemporary work. How do you apply your classical training to the contemporary work?
DG: In fact, the way you study the music score and the conducting technique are the same for classical and contemporary works, but the challenges are different. As a conductor, your role is first and foremost to express what the composer is trying to say. That can be quite a long and demanding process, because you can’t ask the composer directly…
However, with a contemporary work the composer is available, and so can make comments during rehearsals and clarify any areas of uncertainty. It’s refreshing to be able to ask all the questions you want to, and to play a part in the creation of a new work.
On the other hand, the conducting technique can sometimes be much more complicated, because there are no constraints and each composer has his or her own particular style.
AW: What is the first album you bought?
DG: I think it was No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom… or maybe it was the Metallica album with the San Francisco Orchestra.
AW: Is there a song or an album that you cannot stop listening to lately?
DG: I like to listen to different works rather than the same ones over and over. As I’m currently planning the upcoming season for the Arkea Ensemble, the Montreal chamber group I direct, I’m listening to all kinds of things. I can also easily spend a few hours noodling around on the Canadian Music Centre website, or listening to performances by the Berlin Philharmonic in their online “Digital Concert Hall.” I also love listening to the songs of Édith Piaf, as we used to do at home when I was a little girl.
AW: Do you have a favourite memory of a concert you have either attended or been a part of?
DG: One of the most memorable was a concert by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) under guest conductor Zubin Mehta. You could literally feel the connection between the musicians and the conductor as they performed two of my favourite works, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6.
AW: Do you have a favourite instrument?
DG: I play the clarinet, and I played the piano for many years, but I confess I would have loved to learn the violin or the cello. I love string instruments. The repertoire is so beautiful!
AW: What is the biggest lesson you have learned?
DG: The older I get, the more I recognize that we never stop learning, and we just have to learn to live with that. Since I obtained my PhD last September, I feel that I know more, of course, but mostly I realize how much I don’t know!
AW: Do you have preshow rituals?
DG: Sometimes I’ll move around a bit: I might stretch my arms or do a few exercises to make sure my posture is good. But those aren’t really rituals that I engage in before every performance. However, as the date of an important concert approaches I do as much visualization as I can: I “live” the concert in advance, and I get a feel for the experience before I actually go on stage.
AW: What are you hoping to gain from your experience at this year’s Summer Music Institute?
DG: This summer is like the cherry on the sundae! I’ll have several hours on the podium with the Orchestre de la Francophonie, and I’ll be participating in a concert with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. It’s a real turning point in my career, because I’ll be working with one of Canada’s finest orchestras. Also—and as always at the SMI—the repertoire is fantastic, with works by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Mahler… I couldn’t ask for more!
AW: What is your favourite thing about Ottawa?
DG: I love walking along the Rideau Canal or in the ByWard Market. And one of my sisters lives in Ottawa, so I take advantage of my visits here to spend time with her and her beautiful family. My niece loves music, and she’s looking forward to coming to see me conduct on June 28!

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