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Falletta in Full

Sunday's Washington Post features an interview with the conductor JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony, who conducted at the Kennedy Center's gala honoring women in the arts earlier this month. The interview was, of course, condensed for print: the following is a fuller version.

JoAnn Falletta: "You'd think by now they would be so used to a woman conducting they wouldn't talk about it."

Anne Midgette: You came to DC to celebrate women in the arts. What does that mean for you?
JoAnn Falletta: In my opinion, celebrating any aspect of the arts is a great thing. I’m not worried [that it’s going to be] women this time, men another time. It’s a way of putting in front of listeners what’s important: listening to the arts.

ALM: What are your thoughts on exploring contemporary music by women?

JF: If I had been asked 15 years ago where we would be now, I think I would have said far ahead of where we are. It’s changed slowly. [But] my feeling in our industry, in our profession, is that slow change sticks.
I would love to see lots more compositions by women when you look at orchestra seasons [around the country.]…Programming [music] by women [generally] means doing a contemporary piece. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see as much [music by women.] Every orchestra designates 0 to 1 percent of its season for contemporary work.
(read more after the jump)

ALM: Is the issue of being a woman conductor still kind of a monkey around your neck?
JF: It hasn’t gone away. People are still asking those questions. You’d think by now they would be so used to a woman conducting they wouldn’t talk about it.
...In the last 5 years things have changed. [In my work with the League of American Orchestras I see] many young women conducting, [but they are] not all in visible positions, [so a lot of people] don’t know [about them.]

ALM: The League has introduced an initiative to support women conductors – is it useful?
JF: I think it’s useful… Being a conductor is a very lonely thing. We rarely have a chance to talk to any of our colleagues face to face. There’s something very good about being able to call someone, ask questions they’ve been wondering about. It’s not as simple as “What do you wear?”, though that comes up sometimes. How do you deal with a board? How do you deal with an executive director who’s not a team player? Those things are real, and it’s very important to be able to ask those questions…. Every American conductor deals with them.

ALM: What are your thoughts on recording?
JF: It’s fun for me. We record for Naxos, [so] you have to look for new music; they’re not interested in rerecording Mozart symphonies…. [We are] working on a symphony and trio by a composer who was killed at Auschwitz, Marcel Tyberg. His work was preserved by his young piano student who came to Buffalo and became a doctor…
It’s forced us to be very creative about what we do.

ALM: Is it a lot of extra work to prepare all this new music?
JF: It’s a great deal of work…. If you have to be a detective and try to create an interpretation of a work, whether old or new – analyze how it’s going to work, come up with tempos, changes in the score that need to happen – all that makes you think about Beethoven differently.
It started with my work with the Women’s Philharmonic [where Falletta was music director from 1986-97], much of it music that had never been played. We had to find a voice for it, an interpretation for it.
[With familiar repertory,] you take it as a given that that’s the way it goes. When there’s no “way it goes,” you think, Now I’ve got to get to the heart of what the composer meant. It’s a leap of faith. It’s very exciting.

ALM: The Women’s Philharmonic no longer exists.
JF: I left [and it] went on for a number of years. [It] doesn’t exist any more. My hope was that it wouldn’t be necessary. I wish we’d arrived at that point, but I don’t think we have.

ALM: Does the economy affect your programming, your ability to play new music?
JF: …I’ve found that playing new music and being adventurous about repertory, that is not necessarily affected by the economy. You have to be creative about how you put these things together: get involved with a consortium or group that helps you fundraise for a new piece. [But] it’s not the time to say, ‘Let’s hunker down and just play Beethoven.’ You have to play Beethoven, but you have to play [Behzad] Ranjbaran too [Falletta has commissioned a double concerto from Ranjbaran that she will premiere in the 2009-10 season]. That’s going to keep people interested.

By Anne Midgette  |  May 30, 2009; 2:20 PM ET
Categories:  interviews  
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