Persephone Pioneers

Persephone Pioneers: JoAnn Falletta

JoAnn Falletta is the brilliant and talented Director of both the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. She recently began her first season as Principal Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra and is the first woman to ever lead that orchestra. Her career has been long and filled with accomplishments both on and off the stage. I recently had the opportunity to ask the incomparable Ms. Falletta a few questions.

an action shot of a smiling woman conducting
JoAnn Falletta

Persephone Magazine: When did your interest in conducting begin? What drew you to it beyond just playing music?

JoAnn Falletta: I fell in love with the orchestra when I was about 10 or 11 years old. The music that the orchestra was able to bring to life completely uplifted me and transported me to a world of magic and enchantment. I loved the idea of people, many different people, of different backgrounds and characters and personalities, all coming together to create something beautiful.

PM: What is your favorite piece of classical music to listen to? Is it different from your favorite piece to conduct? What do you like about them?

JF: It is impossible for me to choose just one piece to either listen to or to conduct; there are just so many great works! Usually I am working on different pieces every week, so those are the ones that become my favorites until I must move on to a new program.

PM: You have conducted with dozens of different orchestras throughout your career. Are there any particularly memorable performances or venues from your travels?

JF: Carnegie Hall is always a very special venue, almost a sacred place of music! Every great musician has played on that stage, so when I am able to conduct my orchestra there it is a moment that is magical. But there are other places that are very exciting also. For instance, I conducted in the Forbidden City Concert Hall this summer, and it was an extraodinary feeling to be in that ancient place. Conducting in such halls as the Rudolfinum in Prague and the Schubertsaal in Vienna are concerts I will never forget.

PM: I understand you’re currently working on a long-term project to record many of the works of Marcel Tyberg. Can you tell us a bit more about the project? What strikes you the most about his work?

JF: A doctor in Buffalo introduced me to the wonderful composer Marcel Tyberg. He had been the composer’s piano student in the 1940s, and before Marcel Tyberg was seized by the Nazis and murdered at Auschwitz (for his partly Jewish heritage) he gave the young boy his scores for safekeeping. When Dr. Mihich brought me the scores he had protected and cherished all his life, I realized that they were a beautiful musical document of an extraordinary talent. We embarked on a project to record the music of this lost voice, and it has been deeply meaningful and satisfying for us.

PM: Conducting has been a heavily male-dominated field. Have you encountered any challenges during your career because of your gender?

JF: I have made it a point not to look for prejudice in that way, because I realized that I could not be focused on my work if I were distracted. I am sure that it has been and issue from time to time, but I have had many opportunities to conduct and to learn and grow. So I feel fortunate and believe that women now are happily facing fewer obstacles in their conducting careers.

PM: What advice would you give to young women who are interested in pursuing a career in classical music?

JF: I would encourage them to realize two things: that the career will require every bit of your strength and dedication, all of your life and that if you devote yourself to it, you will never regret being a musician. It is really a world of incomparable beauty.

To find out more about JoAnn Falletta, check out her website at, where you can preview some of her works, find out whether she’ll be conducting an orchestra near you, and more.

Photo copyright Enid Bloch Photography, courtesy of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

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