JESSICA GETHIN WASO Conductor’s Royale occasion

Australian conductor Jessica Gethin has had an acclaimed career to date, gaining widespread recognition for her stellar musicianship and vibrant energy, with accolades including the Brian Stacey Emerging Australian Conductor Award, appearing in Australian Financial Review’s 100 Most Influential Women, a Churchill Fellowship, and being named a finalist in the West Australian of the Year Awards. Now Gethin is bringing her conducting expertise to Casino Royale in Concert, as James Bond hits the big screen with music performed live by WASO at Riverside Theatre on Friday, January 21 and Saturday, January 22. BRAYDEN EDWARDS spoke to Jessica Gethin to find out more about the craft of conducting and why she can’t wait to bring the music of Bond to life on stage.

How did you get into conducting and how is the journey different from learning a classical instrument?

Like most conductors I started as a musician. I spent twenty years as a violinist and played in a few orchestras first which really helped when I transitioned into conducting. Conducting is really an extension of all the skills you develop as a professional musician such as aural skills, music theory; then you learn to mould and shape sound, score read, the nuance of orchestration and rehearsal technique as well as how to interpret and communicate what we see on the page to the whole orchestra. We are all just musicians at the end of the day!

What’s involved in the day to day role of a conductor? Is there more to it than the part we see at performances?

A lot of study… scores galore! We sit alone at a desk or piano for many hours learning scores before we get to stand on the podium to rehearse the orchestra. A conductor needs to understand each instrument of the orchestra and be aware of the possibilities and limitations of each in order to interpret the score and communicate what the composer wanted to say through the music. So most of the work is done before we even get to the performance.

However, the skills and leadership required to stand in front of a symphony orchestra are actually quite involved too. When it comes to the performance, the preparation and study is complete, so then it becomes all about nonverbal communication skills to extract the sound I want to achieve out of a large group of individual musicians. It’s complex.

There are so many great classical film scores. What do you feel makes a great one and do you have any personal favourites?

I’ve been lucky to conduct quite a few film scores over the years and love the way the music is able to narrate so much of the emotion and drama of a scene on screen without words. John Williams would have to be one my favourite film composers; his recurring use of motifs throughout the Star Wars series to represent the different characters, his masterful skill in orchestration and the fact that he has produced so many incredible scores that stand alone as performance pieces themselves and not just to film, is really inspiring.

You must have had to study the music of James Bond for this performance, what was the most interesting you learnt in the process?

As with any film score, I start by looking at the actual score itself so I can get a feeling of the orchestration, style, harmony, architecture, and any tricky areas that I might need to focus on first in the rehearsal. Then I move on to syncing it with the movie and click track, making sure that I’m familiar with each cue and all the transitions. I usually end up watching the movie in silence so I can check what I am hearing in my head is fitting with the image, which is a strange way to watch the movie!

This score is full of beautiful suspenseful string writing combined with really energetic, driving brass and percussion with some of our favourite iconic Bond themes thrown in. One interesting thing to note is that we use six French horns, whereas most classical symphonies use four, and a long list of percussion, including djembe, African shaker and bongos. This makes the music super dramatic which is a lot of fun.

Orchestral music has such a long history people often think of it as old-fashioned, but what gets you excited about the future of the craft, and of conducting in particular?

I think of music as just that… not orchestral or classical or rock or pop…. just music! Orchestras are quite embracing of other genres these days, we tend to cross over from performing film scores such as Casino Royale to collaborating with pop and contemporary artists and premiering new compositions as well as more traditional works.

I think that no matter what the genre, and whether it’s performed by an orchestra, or a band or a singer-songwriting duo, music will always have a place in our lives if it tells a story, communicates a feeling or moves us. I’m really excited about all of the projects I’m working on this year, some of them are challenging my creative side as a conductor and some are celebrating things I feel are really important, while some are just going to be a lot of fun.

And how about this show? What are you looking forward to most about getting onto the stage for this performance?

The composer of Casino Royale (Live in Concert), David Arnold, has written a fantastic score which plays two main roles; underscoring the narration to set the scene and also to provide the excitement and drama in all the action moments. I’m looking forward to bringing this all together with WASO performing the score to the big screen, it’s going to be a great way to celebrate the first concert of 2022!

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