It’s obvious to anyone watching the Kamloops Symphony that Dina Gilbert is a natural-born conductor. Her eyebrows rise and fall with expression, her gestures brim with passion and she leads her musicians with a genuine connection.
But growing up in Quebec, Dina’s career path wasn’t obvious to her.
“The fact that I’m a conductor today is almost a miracle,” Dina says. “I knew being a conductor as a profession existed. But it was like being an astronaut. How do you get to do that job?”
Dina joined the Kamloops Symphony as musical director in 2017. At the time, she was already an accomplished conductor with three years as assistant conductor with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal under her belt.
She saw something unique in the Kamloops Symphony, which was established in 1976. “I was impressed by the caliber of the orchestra for a city of that size,” she says. “Regional orchestras don’t usually get up to 10 programs a season. The musicians were enthusiastic about doing new things and already had such a broad range of repertoire.”
Dina was also impressed by the strong arts and culture community in Kamloops. “People in Kamloops have access to high quality teachers and a high-quality orchestra that presents not just standard repertoire such as Beethoven and Mozart, but also Canadians works and tributes to the Beatles. That’s something special.”
Dina grew up in a small Quebec town and didn’t have access to symphony concerts. Her parents weren’t musical, but she learned to play piano as a child. The adults around her started noticing her ear for music and her ability to take everything in and lead a group. As a teenager, she conducted the church choir and her air cadet marching band.
It wasn’t until she was doing her undergrad degree in clarinet at the University of Montreal that a professor suggested she take up conducting as a profession.
Dina went on to do a master’s and a doctorate degree in conducting and has since been invited to conduct by leading Canadian orchestras, as well as on the international scene. She conducted a series of concerts in Japan and several symphony programs in collaboration with hip hop artists in France.
As the musical director for Kamloops Symphony, she determines themes for the season. Dina is known for her audacious programming, mixing classical pieces with more accessible music, such as that played in video games.
“My mission is to get everyone to come see the orchestra,” she says. “Then they’ll see that it’s not just for the elite. Classical music is for everyone. You really don’t need to know about music to feel it.”
Dina enjoys collaborating with other arts organization in Kamloops. The Kamloops Symphony’s 2020-21 season includes The Soldier’s Tale, a theatrical work presented in conjunction with Western Canada Theatre.
Dina explains that Igor Stravinsky conceived this unique work during the Spanish Flu, which makes it relevant to audiences during the time of COVID-19, who can watch it streaming or on demand.
“Music is about connection,” she says. “Through thematic programs we can better understand the past and the present.”
Dina enjoys the food and wine scene in Kamloops. To start her day, Dina says she likes everything at Hello Toast. “It’s where we bring guest artists when they come to town.” She’s also a regular at Caffe Motivo.
After a concert, she and her fellow musicians might go for a drink at The Noble Pig, which serves a Quebec speciality, poutine. She also recommends Cordo Resto + Bar for dinner paired with the symphony.