We are so excited to welcome James Sommerville back to Hamilton to conduct our Beethoven 5 on May 13! James was previously the HPO’s Music Director for seven seasons, leading the orchestra to great critical acclaim during this time. Beloved by our Hamilton orchestral community, we are thrilled to have him back for our final concert of the season.


After a glittering 25-year tenure, James Sommerville retired as Principal Horn of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in December of 2022. James’ career includes seasons with the Toronto and Montreal Symphony Orchestras, the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, and as an acting solo horn for the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Winner of the highest prizes at the Munich, Toulon and CBC solo competitions, he also pursued a career as a French Horn soloist that spanned over 35 years.  

As conductor, James has led many first-rate professional orchestras and ensembles throughout Canada and the USA. Recent engagements include appearances with Symphony Nova Scotia and the Toronto, Edmonton, London (Ontario) and Québec Symphony Orchestras. Internationally, he has been conductor of the US National Brass Ensemble in concert and on their award-winning album of Gabrieli and Williams. He has also conducted a variety of ensembles throughout the USA, Europe and Asia.

We asked James Sommerville to share his thoughts about the works on this upcoming concert program. He reflected on fond memories from his time with the HPO and shared with us what makes Hamilton community special.

Here is what he had to say!


Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5

Beethoven’s Fifth is – arguably – the most ubiquitous and familiar work in the symphonic literature. And somehow, that familiarity never breeds contempt. The unequaled vigour and energy of the first movement, the grandeur and intimacy of the second, the shadowy foreboding of the third, and the triumphant voice of the Finale, still grab the audience from the first note, and never let go until the final cadence.

Mozart’s Violin Concert No. 4

Of course, Mozart is always the greatest pleasure to prepare, study, and perform. This is especially true when working with a brilliant soloist like Nikki Chooi. Mozart’s melodic gift and imagination are as always on perfect display. We get a sense of his brilliant humour in the many abrupt changes of meter, pulse, and velocity in the third movement.

Iman Habibi’s Jeder Baum spricht

I have known and liked Iman Habibi‘s Jeder Baum spricht since its premiere by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2020. In fact my former ensemble, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, programmed it recently as well. It is orchestrated and composed in a very assured and colourful manner. Of course, its subject of the challenges of the climate crisis and how they affect humanity should be top of mind for all of us.

HPO Composer Fellow Gavin Fraser’s for dappled things

It’s always exciting to bring a new work into the world for the first time! I think it’s a very meaningful undertaking for the HPO to provide such opportunities and exposure for young Canadian composers. Composing for orchestra is a very demanding art, and they rarely have the chance to workshop their new pieces with a professional ensemble.

More importantly, I think Gavin Fraser‘s piece is very strong. The Hopkins poem that served as its inspiration has also been a favourite of mine since high school, which makes me happy!


My fondest memories are what make me so happy to be returning to the HPO podium: the chance to perform with such an amazing, talented, generous group of musicians. That collaboration I have missed a great deal!

More specifically, some of my favourite HPO memories are:

  • A great HPO performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
  • The creation and flourishing of the New Music Weeks
  • Canada Day performances by the lake in Burlington
  • So many great soloists – from Adrienne Pieczonka to James Ehnes to Jon Kimura Parker, and too many more to name


Hamilton is a proud city, one with a strong sense of place. Hamiltonians don’t really measure themselves against Toronto, or Burlington, or any other town. The history and personality of the city is very much its own.

This is true of the Philharmonic as well. Although it has had both challenges and triumphs throughout its long history, it has always included brilliant musicians, and attracted discerning and enthusiastic audiences. It has made a place for itself as one of the pillars of the Hamilton cultural scene. This is not true of every city’s orchestra!

Don’t miss Jamie Sommerville’s return to the HPO for our final concert of 22-23!

Beethoven 5
Saturday, May 13 at 7:30pm
FirstOntario Concert Hall

Published on Wednesday, May 3, 2023