A champion of new music, Gwen Hoebig has given the Canadian premieres of violin concertos by S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté, T.P. Carrabré, Randolph Peters, Gary Kulesha, Joan Tower, Christopher Rouse and Philip Glass, and as soloist with orchestra she has performed all the major violin concerti with orchestras across Canada, the United States and Europe.
Prior to the first rehearsal of the 2020/21 Recomposed season, we sat down with her to learn how she spent this summer, favourite snack and what she loves about about Winnipeg.
After more than six months of not being able to perform on the stage, what did you find out about yourself?
That I really miss being on stage! I miss being at work. I did rediscover my love for sewing. I used to sew a lot years ago. Over the spring and summer I have made my fair share of masks for my family and friends. And, like so many Manitobans, I did a lot of gardening.
This past summer you participated in the WSO @ Home Friday Matinee Recital with a performance that included your whole family—the JAGD Quartet. What was that like for you?
That was awesome! It came at such a perfect time. We weren’t doing anything and I was feeling quite lost. I tend to be very goal oriented so I need to have something to get ready for.
And playing with my kids! It was wonderful! Now that they’re away at university, we don’t get to do it very often. This time around, it was a bit shocking though because they came back as equals. It was such a collaborative effort. In fact, it felt like I became a student again! While preparing for the string trio we performed in the recital we actually did a zoom session with one of my daughter’s professors. She’s attending the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings in Georgia. That was really interesting for me. It’s not something I’ve done for many years.
What other instrument do you think you might have fallen in love with if it wasn’t for the violin?
I used to play the piano. What I loved about it was the fact that you put a finger down and you get a sound. It’s much simpler than the violin.
Is there a particular piece of music that cemented the violin for you?
Not a piece, but a violinist. David Oistrakh. When I was maybe 14 I think, for a birthday present my parents gave me a set of LPs of him playing all the famous violin concertos. I would go and hide in my dad’s studio and listen to them over and over again. He was legendary. And I was hooked.
David Oistrakh performed with the WSO back when the late Victor Feldbrill was the music director in the late 50s and 60’s. Have there been any violinists that have been invited to perform since you’ve been with the WSO that stand out for you?
I have admired and enjoyed working with all of them but one of my other violin idols is the American violinist and conductor Joseph Silverstein. Although it was during a difficult time of the symphony’s history, having him come in and share conducting duties with conductor-in-residence Michael Hall after Bramwell Tovey left, was a real highlight for me. This was in the early 2000s.
This weekend you will be opening the 2020/21 Recomposed season with Bach’s Concerto No. 2 for Violin and String Orchestra. What does getting up on the Centennial Concert stage mean to you?
It means a return to what I love to do. It does seem surreal with this pandemic still happening but I’m involved with the Winnipeg Youth Orchestra as president of the board. We started live rehearsals last week. In fact we modeled it after the WSO’s safety protocols and it’s been working great! I think we all wondered if we were all going to be able to hear each other, but it has worked extremely well with the youth orchestra, so I know it’s possible.
What does this Bach work mean to you?
My favourite piece is always the piece I’m working on next. But I do enjoy this work. It is very uplifting and joyous. The last time I played this concerto it was with a very small ensemble at Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall. And we did it without a conductor. This will be a much bigger group on a much bigger stage, with conductor, so I’m preparing very differently. You always have to think of the space you’re playing in. I want to fill the hall with sound.
Besides this opening concert is there a particular concert you’re most looking forward too during this recomposed season?
There is no one work or concert in particular that I am looking forward to. I am looking forward to them all! Being able to return to work with my colleagues and our wonderful conductors, Daniel, Julian, and Naomi, makes me realize how fortunate I am to live in this community! A special thank you to Julian for being a fantastic collaborator this week.
Background Check: Gwen joined the WSO as concertmaster in 1987. She has also been a member of the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Music and teaches regularly at the Mount Royal College in Calgary, where she is a member of the Extended Faculty.
Hometown: North Vancouver, BC
Favourite thing about Winnipeg: The sky
Your go to snack: Milk chocolate