She’s a bike-riding yoga fan and describes herself as a New York City girl at heart, but on Sunday night JoAnn Falleta caught the overnight flight from Newark to Belfast and set to work on a three-year stint as principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra.
And just a few hours after she landed, Grammy-award winner JoAnn was at the head of the orchestra, conducting a mini-concert that featured Leonard Bernstein’s homage to her home town, New York, New York.
An effervescent and exuberant figure on the podium, JoAnn gave local audiences the opportunity to experience her unique conducting style, praised by The Washington Post as having “Toscanini’s tight control over ensemble, Walter’s affectionate balancing of inner voices, Stokowski’s gutsy showmanship, and a controlled frenzy worthy of Bernstein”.
After the concert, she revealed how Bernstein has influenced her conducting style.
“When he talked to us at the Julliard School of Music in New York he stressed the importance of the passion in music-making, even more than technical perfection,” she said. “He made us realise that when we are performing Bizet’s Carmen, for example, it is important to convey the passion and the blood of the bullfight, as well as the excellence of the music.”
JoAnn is the first American and the first woman appointed as the Ulster Orchestra’s principal conductor but plays down her role as a female trailblazer in the arena.
“The image of the conductor is still predominantly male,” she admitted. “The music world is very traditional, and change happens slowly, but it does happen.”
Her appointment is regarded as a coup for the Ulster Orchestra. As former musical director of the Buffalo Philharmonic she has recorded extensively on the Naxos Label, with nine Grammy nominations and two Grammy awards in the past five years.
Her contacts may bring valuable recording opportunities for the Ulster Orchestra and during her three-year tenure an American tour by the orchestra seems highly possible.
This could be the start of an exhilarating three years for the classical scene in Northern Ireland. Music lovers, hold on to your hats.