Symphony Nova Scotia announces new Music Director

Symphony Nova Scotia is delighted to announce that Holly Mathieson will become the orchestra’s new Music Director in January 2020.

“We are beyond thrilled to be joining forces with such an exciting and inspiring artist,” says Nancy Barteaux, Chair of Symphony Nova Scotia’s Board of Directors.

“Holly Mathieson is a spectacular musician, a passionate communicator, and a collaborative, highly experienced conductor. She shares deeply in our orchestra’s commitment to artistic excellence and community connection, and we know she will become a vital part of our province’s rich musical life.”

Holly Mathieson is an in-demand, award-winning conductor, regularly working with opera houses, ballet companies, and orchestras throughout Europe, Australasia, and North America. Born in New Zealand, she is now based in Scotland, and has conducted major UK orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, The Phiharmonia, the BBC Philharmonic, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and the Scottish Opera Orchestra. Together with her husband Jon Hargreaves, she also co-directs Scotland’s groundbreaking Nevis Ensemble, a project founded on the truth that “music is for everyone, everywhere”, and aims to take music out of the concert hall, and into isolated and marginalised communities.

Holly holds a PhD in Music Iconography, and has worked with major conductors including Christoph Dohnanyi, Donald Runnicles, and Peter Oundjian. Her conducting has been acclaimed as having “just the right amount of give and take, enabling the music to flow” (Seen and Heard), with “clarity and elegance in all circumstances” (Classical Source). Her debut disc on the Decca label (Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Isata Kanneh-Mason and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra) recently shot to number 1 in the Classic FM charts, and was praised as “well matched in the exuberant finale” (Gramophone). Holly is a winner of the prestigious Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship, and in 2016, she was named one of New Zealand’s Top 50 Women of Achievement.

Holly is also a committed communicator and educator, and has regularly worked with youth orchestras across the UK. She is a frequent contributor and guest for BBC Radio, and maintains an active online presence as a writer and blogger. She also recently launched a podcast on the subject of classical music.

“I’m thrilled to be deepening my relationship with the players, staff, board, and audiences of Symphony Nova Scotia,” says Holly. “Our two collaborations so far have been a genuine pleasure, musically and personally, and I look forward to exploring how we can serve the Halifax and wider Nova Scotian community even further and more creatively.

“The arts are a crucial part of our human experience, no matter on which side of the footlights we sit – they help us reflect on what it means to be human, to cooperate, and to individuate. They challenge our assumptions and prejudices, and give voice to the experiences and emotions that we find it difficult to express in words. It is my hope that we can work with our supporters and audiences to extend our reach to an ever wider cross-section of Nova Scotia’s residents and visitors, while continuing to explore the exciting and diverse programming that the audience has come to know and love, thanks to the tireless work of Bernhard Gueller and the orchestra over the years.”

Holly Mathieson will assume the role of Symphony Nova Scotia’s Music Director in January 2020 on a three-year contract. She will provide artistic leadership and guidance throughout the remaining 2019/20 concert season, and will begin regularly conducting the orchestra in 2020/21, after her arrival in Halifax. Her first performance with Symphony Nova Scotia is booked for October 29, 2020, on a program that will include a new work from acclaimed Canadian composer Kati Agócs.

“Hiring a new Music Director is one of the most impactful decisions that any orchestra can make,” says Symphony Nova Scotia CEO Christopher Wilkinson.

“Following on the highly successful 16-year tenure of our much-loved Maestro Bernhard Gueller, we knew that our new Music Director needed to be an equally inspirational, respectful, and thoughtful leader, committed to creating great musical experiences for Nova Scotians, while also supporting our team of 37 flexible, highly skilled musicians. We are confident that Holly Mathieson is the right choice to take Symphony Nova Scotia into 2020 and beyond.”

Symphony Nova Scotia’s Music Director Search has been led by a dedicated Search Committee, chaired by Halifax business consultant Cynthia Robertson. The Committee reviewed hundreds of candidates from across Canada and around the world, and developed a rigorous search process that included at least two separate appearances conducting the orchestra in Halifax.

“The Search Committee had both a challenging yet exciting task to identify and select a final candidate for the position of Music Director,” says Cynthia.

“We met a selection of fine and talented candidates, and were pleased to recommend Holly Mathieson as the outstanding final candidate. I would like to thank the Search Committee members for their commitment to the search, and all those who participated in the search process. I strongly believe that Holly will lead Symphony Nova Scotia with energy and an exciting vision for the future.”

The Search Committee also included Symphony Nova Scotia musicians, staff, and volunteers. Throughout the search, the Committee solicited and welcomed a broad range of feedback from Symphony subscribers, donors, and audience members, and led a comprehensive evaluation process with orchestra musicians.

“On behalf of the Symphony Nova Scotia Players Association, I would like to extend our warmest welcome to Holly Mathieson,” says Yvonne DeRoller, a violist with Symphony Nova Scotia since its inception in 1983. “Our search was well worth the wait. We are very excited to get started!”

Following on Holly’s two performances in Halifax (fall 2018 and fall 2019), the audience response was almost unanimously enthusiastic. Concertgoers’ feedback included:

  • “Holly Mathieson is a wonderful conductor to watch and has a great connection with the audience.”
  • “She was knowledgeable, skilful and flexible – brilliant!”
  • “She has a doctorate and a great deal of music and world experience. She is certainly capable of taking our orchestra solidly into the future.”
  • “She seems to be a natural fit with our orchestra and with Nova Scotia.”
  • “She would be a breath of fresh air with our orchestra, and I would look forward to every concert. Hire her!”

As Symphony Nova Scotia’s Music Director, Holly Mathieson will provide key artistic leadership, conduct a significant portion of each concert season, support orchestra administration, and spearhead stakeholder and community engagement. She will also be committed to enhancing the orchestra’s artistic excellence, embracing Nova Scotia’s rich cultural community, providing leadership to the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra, and inspiring and engaging audiences of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.

Holly will join an already-vibrant artistic leadership team at Symphony Nova Scotia, which currently includes Bernhard Gueller, Music Director Laureate; Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, Artist in Residence and Community Ambassador; and Jeanne Lamon, Principal Baroque Leader. The orchestra also maintains connections with Cape Breton-born conductor Martin MacDonald and JUNO-winning composer and conductor Dinuk Wijeratne.

Holly will be Symphony Nova Scotia’s fourth Music Director. She is preceded by Austrian-born Georg Tintner (Music Director 1987-94, Laureate 1994-99), who also lived for many years in New Zealand; American Leslie B. Dunner (1996-99); and German-born Bernhard Gueller (2002-2018, Laureate 2018-present).


Follow Holly on Twitter and Instagram!


Read on to find out Holly’s biggest indulgence, why she was dressed as a fox, how she communicates her ideas about a work to an orchestra, and more!

20 Questions with Holly Mathieson [Halifax Presents]

Holly on why there’s no better time to be a female conductor [Noted, New Zealand]

The Holly Mathieson guide to dressing for the podium [The Scotland Herald]

Meet the Artist – Holly Mathieson [Cross-Eyed Pianist]

Show review: Rebecca Thomas and Symphony Nova Scotia reach farther together [The Coast]