by Diane Axler Baum
Susanna Perry Gilmore fully embraced violin and Judaism relatively late, but in both areas she’s made up for lost time.
A soloist and chamber musician who performs across the country, Gilmore was concertmaster with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra for 15 years before assuming the same key position with the Omaha Symphony in 2011.
During a recent interview, she spoke with warmth and intelligence about her life, her work, and concerts slated for this weekend at the Holland Performing Arts Center and Sunday, April 7 at the JCC.
Gilmore said her mother is Jewish, and they “always had Seders and usually celebrated Hanukkah,” but she “was raised in the Unitarian Church.”
“Religion was not an issue until I became a parent,” she said. In deciding on religion for her daughters, she recognized her deep feelings about the Holocaust and an obligation to keep her mother’s Jewish heritage alive. Moreover, she admitted to “a gap in my own life that needed to be filled.”
She studied for two years with a rabbi before gratefully accepting her Irish husband’s willingness to impart her heritage to their daughters. Finally, she created and underwent a “Reclamation of Faith” ceremony, complete with mikveh immersion.
Gilmore enjoys maintaining a Jewish home and watching Katy, 11, and Zoe, almost 9, express their Jewish identities. How they miss her when she’s working! Fortunately, she and husband Barry Gilmore are “very strong co-parents,” and he holds things together.
“He’s always supported my professional endeavors; he’s wonderful,” she smiled, adding with pride that Barry is the principal of an independent school, recently earned a Ph.D., and is working on his seventh book.
Omaha offers Gilmore tremendous professional satisfaction. From the time she visited as guest concertmaster, she “felt a great positive connection between myself and this Symphony.”
Connectedness matters. As concertmaster, she’s responsible for leading the strings “to play as one voice” and for showing “what the conductor wants” through her playing. She admires Conductor Thomas Wilkins as “a great leader, on and off the podium,” and is delighted that he calls her his “Field Commander.”
Gilmore also receives praise for solo performance. A Memphis newspaper called her playing “thrilling and sensitive;” the Omaha World-Herald remarked on her “heartbreakingly mellow tone.”
Omaha is a good fit beyond the symphony. “I am blown away by everything I’ve found here,” she said, singling out the Old Market, the Joslyn, and the zoo. She’s impressed by the Rose Blumkin Home; she enjoys activities at the JCC.
Gilmore is looking forward to two milestone programs. This weekend (March 1 and 2), the Omaha Symphony’s all-Mozart concerts at the Holland feature the Violin Concerto #5 in A Major. In Memphis, Gilmore performed as a soloist in this thrilling work, and she’s excited about “the first opportunity to play the concerto with my new colleagues.”
On Sunday evening April 7, at the JCC, Gilmore will make her debut with the Omaha Chamber Music Society.
The concert, titled “3 BY 3,” highlights three great works she loves: Haydn’s Trio in G Major; Rachmaninoff’s Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano; and Ravel’s Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello. She will share the stage with Paul Ledwon, cello, and Yulia Kalashnikova, piano. Thanks to support from the Sokolof Javitch Music Fund, the concert is free and open to the public.
Gilmore’s academic parents raised her and her brothers as “faculty brats.” Born in Buffalo, N.Y., where she started piano at age five, she soon moved to Bloomington, IN, and then to Nashville, TN. By age 13, she’d pulled away from the piano toward the “social nature of the violin.
With the family’s move to England, Gilmore completed high school in Yorkshire, received a Bachelor’s in Music from Oxford, and spent a year in the Advanced Studies Program at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Only then did she return to the U.S. to attend Boston’s New England Conservatory, for a Master’s in Violin Performance.
Now Gilmore enjoys a multifaceted career filled with performing, teaching, and recording; innovation and leadership; recognition and awards. From her somewhat late commitment to violin performance, she has more than caught up — and it’s full steam ahead from here.