Returning ‘home’

Conductor James Judd is looking forward to performing in Dunedin. Photo: Gabriel Mara Isser
Conductor James Judd is looking forward to performing in Dunedin. Photo: Gabriel Mara Isser
Conductor James Judd will perform with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra for the first time next month after Covid-19 scuttled his last attempt to come to the southern city, he tells Rebecca Fox.

It turns out moving to New Zealand is not that easy, especially when a worldwide pandemic hits.

For James Judd and his family, the move back to the country he fell in love with while music director of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra from 1999 to 2007 has been a slow one.

"It’s been a long drawn-out process with a lot of moving parts. It’s become quite a loose schedule."

The family sold their Florida, United States, home in anticipation of the move, but Covid-19 meant they stayed in the city in rented accommodation, although Judd, who was born in Britain, spent much of his lockdown time in Wellington.

He is still optimistic they will soon be able to settle in the capital.

Judd is Music Director Emeritus with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) and is attributed with bringing the orchestra to international renown, including leading its first tour of the major concert halls of Europe and its debut appearance at both the BBC Proms and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in 2005.

"I’m really looking forward to forming a proper base. I love the country and the people, the culture.

"The music in the country is fantastic, the quality is high."

With his busy travel schedule to Australia and Asia, he believes New Zealand will be easier to fly from than his current United States base.

He had settled in Florida in the late 1980s, where he spent 14 years as music director of the Florida Philharmonic. Judd is now the artistic director and principal conductor of the Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra in South Korea.

His latest trip to New Zealand will see him perform with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra for the first time.

"I’m so happy this is finally happening, what with Covid. We’ve had several attempts to do this programme, so I’m very much looking forward to it."

The concert features violinist Amalia Hall, whom Judd enjoys playing with. He conducted her in her debut with the NZSO earlier this year, when it performed the last movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

"Now we get to play the whole concerto together which will be fun."

Also on the programme is Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 which he describes as a very joyful, happy, positive symphony.

"It’s a real jewel of a piece which players and audiences who hear it come away recharged by."

He is also looking forward to Hamish MacCunn’s The Land of the Mountain and the Flood overture.

"It’s a very romantic overture. The moment you hear it, you’ll recognise the flavour of the language.

"You’ll hear a few notes and know it’s Scottish and from its use in a long-running TV series.

"It’s a lovely piece to start with."

Judd, a graduate of London’s Trinity College of Music, then has a few other New Zealand commitments before he flies out to Australia, home to Florida for Christmas, and then to Europe in the new year.

He admits flying is not the easiest these days due to the lack of planes in the air. Most he has taken have been completely full.

"Everything books so quickly and the prices are insane. But it’s a minor thing really."

Spending a lot of lockdown in New Zealand confirmed the feelings his family have had about the country since they fell in love with the place back in the late 1990s, early 2000s.

"It feels like home for me, as I’ve been coming here for so many years."


Amalia Plays Mendelssohn, Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, November 5, Dunedin Town Hall