The Classical Station’s interview with JoAnn Falletta for Preview!

Interview with JoAnn Falletta
by Bethany Tillerson (Photo credit: Cheryl Gorski)

This week on Preview!, Rob Kennedy speaks with JoAnn Falletta about Claudette Sorel: Rediscovered, the new album release by the Sorel Organization. JoAnn Falletta, in addition to her position as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, is part of the Sorel Organization’s Board of Directors.

KENNEDY: This is Preview! on The Classical Station. Our guest this week is conductor JoAnn Falletta, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. JoAnn, tell our listeners about this remarkable pianist, educator, philanthropist, author, and advocate for women in music, Claudette Sorel.

FALLETTA: I was actually a personal friend of Claudette when I was a student. She was born in 1932. In the first years of her life, it was obvious that she was an extraordinary, phenomenal prodigy. She was born in France, and her parents decided that they would move to the United States. They wisely thought that a young girl would have a better chance of success. So she moved when she was eight. Two years later, she made her recital debut at The Town Hall in New York City. Then a year later, at the age of 11, she played a debut with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, and there were just raves. Harold Schonburg said Claudette Sorel was in the front rank of American pianists.

From the fifties to the seventies, she had a fantastic career–she played over 2000 recitals and concert appearances with orchestra. I think the reason we don’t know her name now is that in the seventies, one wintry day she slipped on ice. It was the kind of injury that wouldn’t allow her to play as a professional pianist anymore, so that was the end of her performing days. But she was indomitable. Her spirit was so vibrant. She decided that she would do everything she could to help women—women pianists at first, and then she decided that she wanted to try and help women who were really new to the world of women composers and women conductors. That’s when we met. She contacted me when I was still a student at Juilliard, but she wanted to talk to me about obstacles I faced and what would help young women have a conducting career.

She was amazing and she put me on her advisory board, which was a big honor for someone who was just beginning my career as a very young conductor. It was so inspiring to me to see her try to help other people. She never gave up on her dream that women would be able to have an equal role in our arts world.

KENNEDY: What’s featured on this marvelous two-CD set, Claudette Sorel Rediscovered, which was released in late 2021?

FALLETTA: It is taken from her live recordings; in fact, this is the only way people can hear her now. She wasn’t recorded early in her career, but we have these fantastic performances. It shows how interested she was in American music and discovering new music. There’s a Divertimento for Piano by Joseph Wood, a great American composer. There’s a piano concerto by Harold Morris, and there’s her most beloved Piano Concerto by Edward MacDowell. So three American piano concertos, but also some other wonderful music–early nocturnes by Sergei Rachmaninoff, which she herself discovered. These were nocturnes that had never been published.

The other inspiration I’ve drawn from her is her curiosity about music that’s not known. I was astonished by her curiosity and interest in new music, in living composers. She’s become a role model for me, and I think her spirit inspired a lot of the things that I tried to do later in my life. We no longer have her. She died in 1999, but through the foundation, she is still helping women succeed. I’m so honored to be a part of her board again and to remember this fantastic friend I had so many years ago and celebrate her actual music-making. I think people will be astonished at her virtuosity, her power and her personality that shines through in these recordings.

KENNEDY: JoAnn, thank you so much for sharing with our listeners. You are a champion of modern composers, just like Claudette was. Thank you for being such an exemplar in the profession.

Join us to listen to JoAnn Falletta’s interview on Sunday, October 1st, at 7 p.m. Listen on, 89.7 FM, or our app.