By Matthew Fava

This past year, CMC Ontario was able to work with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra on the first edition of their Composer Fellowship Program. Composer Liam Ritz was selected for the role, spending several months writing a new work while also being embedded in various aspects of the orchestras operations—from artist talks to education programs.

Back in August, I sat down (in different rooms in the same city) with Liam to message one another about the experience, and what he gained through the process!

fava.matthew 1:59 PM
Hey Liam, Matthew here! I am going to be at the ready when you log in!
2:02 PM
Oh, I am here an hour early.
I will be at the ready when you log in an hour from now.

Liam Ritz 2:41 PM
Hey Matthew, ready any time!

fava.matthew 2:55 PM
Thanks for your patience!
We ended up having a going away snack for a coworker
I am ready now.
How is your day going?

Liam Ritz 2:56 PM
It’s going very well! Pretty relaxed so far.

fava.matthew 2:56 PM
Before we get into a talk about the HPO process
and because I love symmetry
I figured I would bring up a travel question (which was a feature of our first interview)
You were in Boston recently? Was this a music trip, or was there a musical side quest to your main mission?

Liam Ritz 2:58 PM
That was actually strictly vacation! I was visiting a few friends in Boston, and then onto Providence, Rhode Island where my older brother was getting married!

fava.matthew 2:59 PM
Oh amazing! Congrats to your brother!
Now to open up our discussion of the HPO program
Would you characterize your thoughts about the fellowship experience like this …


like this …


or in some other way?

Liam Ritz 3:00 PM
Probably the first one, for sure.

fava.matthew 3:01 PM
Yeah, celebratory backflip à la Carlton is a good sign

Liam Ritz 3:01 PM
Yeah, it was a really fantastic experience. Lots of Carlton backflipping!

fava.matthew 3:01 PM
Haha! From what I can tell, the experience became much more involved than we originally anticipated—largely because of the different interests you had, and the opportunities that came up as a result of HPO programs.
3:02 PM
I understand from my HPO colleagues that you were a regular at rehearsals. What did that opportunity mean to you? Listening to and witnessing the process of preparing repertoire.

Liam Ritz 3:04 PM
The minutiae of the orchestral rehearsal process is one my favourite things to watch, and made even better when I’m able to be involved in some way. Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but I’d happily watch a rehearsal over a performance any day, so having that kind of all-access pass to the HPO rehearsals was great.

fava.matthew 3:05 PM
Did you have a few pieces in particular that you wanted to see in that setting?

Liam Ritz 3:09 PM
For their final mainstage concert of the season, the HPO performed Mahler’s 5th symphony (a personal favourite of mine)! As you mentioned earlier, we were able to cater the fellowship experience to my specific interests, and so I was able to be slightly involved in the rehearsal process and act as an extra set of ears for Gemma New as she was rehearsing, and spend some time talking with her about her rehearsal process.

HPO in concert

HPO Conductor Gemma New pictured with the ensemble during the May 2019 performance, “In the Groove”. Photo: Banko Media

fava.matthew 3:10 PM
I am going to return to the dialogue you had with Gemma in a bit
3:11 PM
but before that I wanted to get your thoughts about Orchestral culture, and how you enter into that space as a composer.
I have a bit of a lengthy set u