JoAnn Falletta wants to make sure audiences don't regard her Arkansas Symphony podium debut this weekend as an audition for the orchestra's vacant music director position.
She already has enough to keep her busy — she's the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, a position she has held for 20 years, and the Virginia Symphony. She's also the principal guest conductor of the Brevard Music Center and artistic adviser for the Hawaii Symphony.
She also does a lot of guest-conducting, which is what's bringing her to the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra to open the 2019-20 Stella Boyle Smith Masterworks season. Saturday's concert (but not Sunday's) is in collaboration with the Acansa Arts Festival of the South, closing out two weekends of widely divergent music, dance, theater and even mime performances.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Falletta says of her first experience with the Little Rock-based ensemble. "I hear some very good things about their artistic excellence and their personality as well."
Genre-crossing trio Time for Three joins Falletta and the orchestra for Concerto 4-3, which Jennifer Higdon, the ASO's 2012-13 Composer of the Year, wrote upon their commission (reflected, of course, in the name of the composition).
This will be the second time she has worked with the trio. "After hearing about them for years, I had a chance to work with them last summer at the festival at Brevard, and I've just fallen in love with this group," she says. "They're just spectacular.
"We did the same piece, the concerto by Jen Higdon. Jen has managed to write a serious piece that is absolutely virtuosic and light-hearted. It's well suited to them because that's their personality. They bring a lightness and joy to classical music."
Bookending Falletta's program are two orchestral showpieces — Maurice Ravel's La Valse and Scheherazade, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's four-movement musical retelling of 1,001 Arabian Nights.
"They're orchestral showpieces," she explains. "It's a beautiful way to get to know an orchestra for the first time."
Solos abound in Scheherazade, she adds. "It's really a tour de force for so many of the musicians.
"The Ravel is also an extraordinary piece; it's not very long, but it's emotionally riveting. A lot of people think [it's] going to be kind of a light-hearted Viennese waltz, but it's not that at all — it's very dark. Only Ravel could make something so dark so beautiful from beginning to end.
"I hope that they'll feel the impact of the piece because for me it's almost the strongest anti-war piece ever written. It's his pain of living through the First World War, but in the most beautiful garb."
Falletta, a graduate of the Mannes School of Music with master's and doctoral degrees from the Juilliard School, has guest-conducted more than a hundred orchestras in North America and many of the most prominent orchestras in Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. In 2019-20 she'll also guest-conduct orchestras in Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Mexico and across the United States.
When she got the job as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, she became the first woman to lead a major America ensemble. She records regularly with the orchestra for the Naxos label, with a discography of more than 115 titles. Recent releases have included the world premiere recording of Richard Danielpour's Passion of Yeshua and Salome by Florent Schmitt.
On the Buffalo Philharmonic's own Beau Fleuve label has come a live concert pairing from March of selections from Sergei Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet and Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2, with pianist Fabio Bidini.
"It's great to document where the orchestra is now," she says. "When we record for Naxos, we're almost always recording unknown works." An exception: the recent release of a recording of Ottorino Respighi's "Roman Trilogy" — Pines of Rome, Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals.
Falletta is also a guitarist of considerable note, and according to her official biography, when not on the podium "she enjoys writing, cycling, yoga and is an avid reader."
The orchestra is taking a year to reflect on just what they're looking for in a new music director, and then possibly faces a year of conductor search, in which candidates for the permanent position take the podium to "audition" for the orchestra board, administration, musicians and audiences.
Falletta says that's wise.
"This is an interesting time for them," she says, "seeing a lot of different people, and focusing on what is the future. It's a decision that's so important, and the person that they'll finally settle on will need so many gifts. They want a person who can be a great musician, and raise money, and communicate with young people and love to do pops." Former Music Director Philip Mann also topped that out because he "got the community invested in the idea of the orchestra and the power of music."
She says that while she's not available, she'd be glad to help orchestra management evaluate its needs: "I'd be happy to talk to them. And I know a few people."
Arkansas Symphony Orchestra
Masterworks season opener
7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, Robinson Center Performance Hall, 426 W. Markham St. (at Broadway), Little Rock. JoAnn Falletta, guest conductor; Time for Three. Maurice Ravel: La Valse; Jennifer Higdon: Concerto 4-3; Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade. Saturday’s concert is part of the Acansa Arts Festival of the South.
Sponsor: Stella Boyle Smith Trust.
Tickets: $16-$70, $10 students and active duty military; free to Sunday’s matinee for K-12 students with a paying adult.
Style on 09/24/2019
Print Headline: Busy Arkansas Symphony guest conductor filling in for Masterworks opener