Interview | JoAnn Falletta

By Dan McHugh
January 18, 2021

WAKE FOREST, NC – JoAnn Falletta is the GRAMMY Award-winning Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic. She won a 2019 GRAMMY Award for her recording with the London Symphony and has recorded nearly 120 titles. The Classical Station’s Rob Kennedy spoke with Ms. Falletta about her career, interpreting musical scores, and more.

JoAnn Falletta
Photo by Heather Bellini courtesy of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

JoAnn Falletta studied the guitar and performed with the Juilliard Symphony, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic. From an early age, she knew that she wanted to be a conductor. “From age ten or eleven, I had decided that I had to be a conductor … there was something about being in the middle of an orchestra, being the catalyst in a way, being the person who helped all of that happen. That was my dream. When I listen to that music and the idea that I could help other people feel that sense of just wonder at the magnificence of a symphony orchestra. That’s how I wanted to spend my life as a student.” In 1999, Ms. Falletta achieved her dream and became Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, becoming the first woman to conduct a major American orchestra.

The conductor of an orchestra is responsible for interpreting a musical score in order to bring the composer’s work to life. Whether performing a symphony by Beethoven or her 2019 recording of Richard Danielpour’s oratorio The Passion of Yeshua, Ms. Falletta approaches the scores in the same way. She said, “The score is our Bible. The way we look at the score, we are in touch first hand with the composer – the only way we can know him or her is through the score. I found it was very helpful to study the score in silence for a very long time and to work from the largest architecture inward. You mentioned architecture and I think that’s a wonderful word, the idea that you might have a Mahler symphony of 90 minutes, and it all has to work together. So the other way for me to begin to understand that is to study the score, looking at every note, every line of every instrument and getting to know the architecture.”

I found it was very helpful to study the score in silence for a very long time and to work from the largest architecture inward…

As one of the most famous American conductors today, and perhaps the most prominent female conductor, she is not only sought after as a musician but also as a television spokesperson. In 2018 she appeared in the Macy’s commercial “Remarkable You.” Many young musicians also look up to Ms. Falletta as a role model. Her advice for aspiring conductors is to keep practicing their instruments and to “Just keep playing and go to as many concerts and rehearsals as possible.” Bringing a score along from the library is an important way to listen to the music. Being dedicated is important, too. It’s no surprise that Ms. Falletta, whose life has been immersed in music, has become one of the most prolific conductors of our age.

Here is the full interview with JoAnn Falletta and Rob Kennedy. It originally aired on the February 2019 edition of My Life In MusicMy Life in Music airs on the first Monday of the month on The Classical Station. It features interviews with musicians, conductors, and composers about their education, life, and work.

You can also listen to all of our conversations with conductors, instrumentalists, singers, and composers.