condensed and edited by Victoria Bourne
JoAnn Falletta is a baton-wielding rock star. The three-time Grammy winner has been called a trailblazer for women conductors and a champion of American composers. She’s conducted orchestras worldwide, and for 28 years she’s called Norfolk’s Virginia Symphony Orchestra one of two musical homes. (She’s also led the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for two decades.) Credited with bringing VSO national attention and critical acclaim, she takes her final bow as its music director in June.
Name your proudest moment with the Virginia Symphony.
Our debut concert at Carnegie Hall! The orchestra played a wonderful program perfectly with passion, strength, imagination and great beauty.
What do you remember most about your 1991 audition?
How tremendously impressed I was with the VSO, their skill, their energy, their desire to play at the highest level. The musicians also had a very special personality, a caring for each other and a feeling of family that is rare.
Why have your “pre-concert conversations” been so popular?
Part of the answer might be that I love talking to (the audience) about the program – they can probably feel that! It really helps me relax and focus. And our audience seems to enjoy learning more … .
What do you love most about classical guitar?
Since that first day I held a guitar (my seventh birthday) I have loved everything about the instrument: the way the strings felt, the fragrance of the wood, the tone … . The guitar is an intimate, personal instrument, which is a perfect foil for the extroverted, public world of conducting. It has been very precious to me.
What does it feel like to win a Grammy?
I was able to go to Hollywood to be there for the announcement (this year), and it is an experience I will never forget. … I was especially happy that I shared this honor with my dear friend, composer Ken Fuchs, who wrote the incredible music for the winning CD (Spiritualist, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra).
Describe your relationship with VSO’s musicians.
I have always felt it a great privilege to be their colleague. They are wonderful musicians and beautiful people … . I will always remember these years as some of the happiest of my life.
What is the role of the conductor, and how would you describe your conducting style?
To create a landscape where excellence can flourish; to nurture an environment where the musicians can be the great artists that they are. I hope my conducting style will always be flexible, open and responsive to the music and to the orchestra around me.
How have things changed for women conductors?
The acceptance of women on the podium has taken a long time, but in the last five years or so, it seems to have taken a giant step forward. Finally more and more women are conducting orchestras all over the world.
Which has been your favorite performance venue?
Carnegie Hall will always be a favorite, but I love our Virginia halls as well: Chrysler, Ferguson, Sandler and Regent.
Tell us about your farewell performances, which include compositions by Richard Strauss, Robert Schumann and Ludwig van Beethoven:
My final programs are special to me. One of them features one of our orchestra’s extraordinary young stars, Jacob Fowler, principal hornist. I have always loved Strauss’ Rosenkavalier, and it is a piece about saying goodbye (always filled with some tears). And Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, my very last piece with this great orchestra, is a monumental work of tremendous joy that speaks of the unity of all mankind – a wonderful final statement!
What have you enjoyed most about living in Hampton Roads, and what will you miss most about VSO?
I love Hampton Roads and will keep my Norfolk condo as a special happy escape for when I am not working elsewhere. I simply could not leave this great walkable, livable, beautiful city, which has become a vibrant cultural center. I will miss being in the middle of the great VSO musicians, but I can be in the audience cheering them on.
What’s next for you?
I will continue to conduct in the USA and abroad. Conducting is a path of constant learning and developing, and I am looking forward to the future.