Listen to public radio’s “Performance Today” on any given morning and there’s a good chance you will hear JoAnn Falletta conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic or some other symphony orchestra. In the classical music world, Falletta has become a force to reckon with.
She serves as the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and principal guest conductor of the Brevard Music Center.
Additionally, she tours, making guest conducting appearances around the world. Her discography is enlarging significantly.
She is leading the Charleston Symphony this weekend in two performances of an all-Russian program, featuring the young Charleston pianist Micah McLaurin and winners of the symphony’s “Share the Stage” contest.
Several high school string players will join the orchestra for the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Selections from “Swan Lake.”
In anticipation of her appearance in Charleston, The Post and Courier asked Falletta a few questions about her career and the state of classical music in the U.S.
Q: You are in high demand. You maintain strong relationships with several institutions, manage a number of guest-conductor appearances and spend significant time in the recording studio. How do you do it?
A: I have to plan my schedule very carefully, often a year or two in advance. So I unfortunately cannot be very spontaneous about my life! But there are two compelling ways I can find the energy for all the concerts and traveling: first, the extraordinary power of the music itself (I think it is the greatest artistic legacy we have); and secondly, the energy and excellence of the musicians in the orchestras (I believe that the orchestra is the finest team in the world).
It is such a privilege for me to stand on the podium surrounded by the incredible musicians in an orchestra.
Q: For years now, you have made a career leading orchestras in mid-size cities such as Buffalo and Norfolk. I guess you like coming to Charleston, too. What is it about these orchestras that appeals to you?
A: I believe that orchestras in mid-size cities can have a greater impact on the quality of life in their regions. Often they can form stronger bonds with the people of their communities as well, and develop truly significant partnerships with individuals, companies and other organizations.
It is thrilling for me to realize that our orchestras and our musicians are making a real difference in our city, making life richer and more beautiful for our neighbors.
Because of our close connection to our region, we can take risks and be adventurous as well, knowing that we are an intrinsic part of the tapestry of life there.
Q: You are coming to Charleston for the second time, leading the CSO in an all-Russian program featuring 18-year-old piano soloist Micah McLaurin. What’s it like working with young talent? Can you describe a little the nature of the conductor-soloist connection?
A: I cannot wait to work with Micah! I have heard wonderful things about him. It is really exciting to have the chance to work with talented young people: their enthusiasm, their discovery of music, their freshness and optimism are deeply inspiring.
And working with a soloist is a true collaboration. We have to get to know each other musically to create an interpretation that is a combination of both of our personalities.
Q: It seems to me you are part of a new generation of musicians tasked with ensuring that classical music remains a vital force in the cultural life of our communities, even in the face of so much competition, economic challenges, distractions and diversions. Do you think of yourself as a musical envoy?
A: I think of myself in a way as an ambassador for music, and it is a privilege to share my love of this art.
I am so happy to have the chance to open the window to the extraordinary world of orchestral music, to reach out to new audiences, to explore music with our listeners, to keep our symphonic tradition vibrant, growing and powerful.
We have to be ready to pursue different avenues and to think about our presentations differently, and always to offer the most committed and passionate performances!
Q: On a related note, what do you think the future holds for symphony orchestras in the U.S.?
A: Symphony orchestras are going through a period of change in the world now, but I believe that they will emerge from these challenges stronger than ever.
Classical music is too powerful, too relevant, too important to our lives to ever be lost!
I think that the future will find us exploring different ways to present orchestral music, and the wonder of this art form will continue to fill our lives with beauty.