An interview with Executive Director Diana Weir
By Emily Kertcher
The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra is a staple part of our community and has grown to become one of Canada’s major professional orchestras. In honour of urbanicity’s music issue, we thought it important to sit down and chat with Executive Director, Diana Weir about the HPO and what it means to the current revitalization of Hamilton.
Q: What is the HPO?
DW: The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra is Hamilton’s professional symphony. As a not-for-profit, charitable organization, our mission is to enrich the community through enriching orchestral experiences. Full orchestra, mainstage concerts at FirstOntario Concert Hall (formerly Hamilton Place), happy hour events at local bars, and Family Concert Experiences are just a few of the programs we offer for diverse demographics across our region.
Q: How did the HPO come to be?
DW: The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1884 as The Hamilton Orchestral Society and grew to become one of Canada’s major professional orchestras. Since its opening in 1973, the Great Hall at FirstOntario Concert Hall (formerly Hamilton Place) has been the home of the HPO. Today, the HPO is a leader in Hamilton’s robust arts community where it provides professional orchestral services and music education programs to address the needs of the community. As one of the region’s anchor arts institutions, the HPO continues to commission and premiere works by Canadian and international artists, contributing to the cultural fabric of our region.
Q: What training do the musicians go through to become part of the HPO?
DW: As a professional symphony orchestra, our musicians are highly trained, unionized professionals who go through a rigorous audition process to become a member of the HPO. Most of our musicians have master’s degrees in performance and all of them are full-time professional musicians. You can often spot our musicians playing in professional orchestras across the province, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, Canadian Opera Company and National Ballet of Canada.
Q: What are some of the main events you are offering this season? Is there a particular concert that you are looking forward to or that you would recommend people to come and see?
DW: I’m excited by all of our programs, but I’m also pretty biased. I always think our mainstage concerts are exciting, because it’s thrilling to see and hear so many musicians on stage, creating intense and emotive music. Our Music Director Gemma New is an inspiring figure, and an exciting young leader for our orchestra and in our community. She loves Hamilton and all it has to offer (and is particularly fond of the restaurants!). Our audience responds so positively to what she does on stage with our musicians, so I would say coming to check her out for any of our mainstage concerts at FirstOntario Concert Hall (formerly Hamilton Place) is a must. We also have our Indie Series collaboration with local band the Altobeelays in December, and our annual Happy Hour event at Shawn and Ed Brewery in Dundas in February. There’s a whole lot to experience at the HPO whether you’re 7, 27 or 77!
Q: Why is the HPO important to and for Hamilton?
DW: Hamilton is a wonderful place to live and work, with a fantastic sense of community and pride amongst its citizens. Part of creating a healthy and happy population includes offering stimulating and productive employment, affordable places to live, beautiful places to congregate and socialize, and memorable experiences to share with loved ones. The HPO contributes to creating a well-rounded city by offering enriching musical experiences through the orchestra. We believe Hamilton deserves a high-quality professional orchestra and that the contributions of our artists make Hamilton a more attractive place to live for current and prospective residents.
We know that image is a critical factor in a city’s economic success, and Hamilton depends, in part, on how residents and non-residents perceive its livability. The HPO helps draw positive public attention from the press and non-Hamiltonians that contributes to the city’s images.
We also contribute directly to downtown revitalization by providing a lively street atmosphere, safe evening activities and involvement of local young people. By contributing to a rich cultural environment, the HPO helps shape our urban landscape in a way that is vibrant and unique.