Joann Falletta: A modern musical pioneer
JoAnn Falletta has become one of the most prominent American conductors today, serving as the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Virginia Symphony Orchestra, as well as the principal guest conductor of the Brevard Music Center Summer Institute in North Carolina. From 2011 to 2014, she served as principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra, with whom she made her debut at the BBC Proms in London. JoAnn has guest conducted over a hundred orchestras in North America and many of the most prominent orchestras in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.
At the 2019 GRAMMY Awards, JoAnn Falletta received the GRAMMY award for Best Classical Compendium for her latest Naxos release with London Symphony Orchestra, entitled ‘Spiritualist’, featuring works from composer Kenneth Fuchs. This marks her third GRAMMY award win and her thirteenth nomination.
In celebration of her recent GRAMMY Award win and Women’s History Month, we sat down with her to learn more about her musical background, recent accomplishments, influences, and more!
Congratulations on your recent GRAMMY award! What was it like to take this Kenneth Fuchs project from its infancy, through the recording process, all the way to winning a GRAMMY?
Ken and I have been friends since Juilliard, and I have conducted many of his works. We have recorded five Naxos albums with the London Symphony, and when our most recent release, ‘Spiritualist’, was nominated for a GRAMMY, we were thrilled! It really seemed like the culmination of our 15-year recording history together. When we won (against all odds), it was an incredible affirmation of Ken's extraordinary music, the London Symphony Orchestra, the featured soloists, and of our collective work together and musical friendship.
2019 also marks your 20th year as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. What are some of your proudest accomplishments with this orchestra, and what are some of your favorite aspects of Buffalo’s musical community?
Buffalo is an extraordinary city with a great cultural history and love for its orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic. In the 20 years we have worked together, Naxos has been a tremendous part of our artistic growth. The orchestra and I have released 24 Naxos CDs together, many of which spotlighting unusual or little-known repertoire — this process has greatly strengthened us artistically and been a fabulous adventure for all of us. When you spend a long time with an orchestra, you can really see the levels of development and the landmarks of growth. I am particularly proud of our tours to Carnegie Hall, Florida, and Europe, as well as the commissioning work we have done along the way. I feel lucky to work in a beautiful city for an audience that adores its philharmonic, to work with a vibrant and virtuosic group of musicians who love working together, and to be a member of the Naxos team!
Your feature in Macy’s ‘Remarkable You’ ad campaign was fantastic! How did that come about, and what was that experience like?
The invitation to be part of a Macy's fashion campaign was a complete surprise! They wanted to present women who were working in unusual professions, and I was thrilled that they thought about classical music. It was enormous fun to be filmed and photographed in Hollywood- certainly a very different experience for me! I think that I wore more makeup and hairspray in two days than I have worn in my entire life! It was totally glamorous, fun, and, best of all, millions of people had the chance to see a woman conducting an orchestra!
Throughout your career, you have been a prominent advocate of new American works, with over 100 world-premiere recordings to date. As a conductor, what are some differences in how you prepare a world-premiere performance versus a concert of core classical repertoire?
I love new music, and I enjoy working with living composers in helping to bring a piece to life. It requires tremendous study and courage; we never know exactly how a piece will turn out. But, this discovery process, and the joy of introducing something entirely new to our audiences, is really at the core of music making and of our art form.
What first inspired you to pursue music as an instrumentalist, and from there, what inspired you to become a conductor?
I first fell in love with music on my seventh birthday when my father gave me a beautiful classical guitar- I signed up for lessons the very next day! I loved everything about that guitar- the way it felt to hold, how beautiful each string sounded, even the wonderful fragrance of the wood. I have never stopped loving and playing that instrument, however, after attending numerous orchestral concerts as a child, I fell in love with the orchestra as well. The sound of an orchestra overwhelmed and enchanted me, and at the age of eleven, I told my parents that I would become a conductor. My entire life has been a dream come true!
Who are some female figures that you have looked up to in the world of classical music?
Unfortunately, when I first started my conducting career, there were not many other female conductors, but I did have the chance to meet Margaret Hillis, Sarah Caldwell, and Antonia Brico, who were true pioneers in the field. I also came to know many women composers, both past and present, and have become deeply inspired by them as well. Women in classical music have helped to bring today’s orchestral world to an unprecedented level of excellence.
What motivated you to establish the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition?
The JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition was inspired by WNED, our classical music station in Buffalo. Together, we hoped to encourage more orchestras to spotlight classical guitar concerto repertoire, which is incredibly beautiful but so often overlooked. This program has been a great success and has drawn guitarists from all over the world to Buffalo to compete and to play concerts.