The Grammy® winner returns to Breckenridge with insight on her upcoming Aug. 2 NRO performance

By Shauna Farnell

The first woman to lead a major American orchestra (as Music Director for The Buffalo Philharmonic) and winner of two individual Grammy® awards, JoAnn Falletta has conducted orchestras all over the world. Breckenridge, however, is incomparable in her mind. Performing here many times over the years, the prolific recording artist and conductor returns on Aug. 2 to lead the National Repertory Orchestra through a heartfelt program featuring works by Roberto Sierra, Jonathan Leshnoff, Pablo de Sarasate and Sergei Prokofiev. Sponsored by Vail Health Shaw Cancer Center, the concert is presented in memory of violinist and former NRO musician Charles Wetherbee, who passed away in January after a battle with cancer.

JoAnn Falletta by Heather Bellini

JoAnn Falletta by Heather Bellini

NRO: What initially sparked your interest in a musical profession?

JoAnn Falletta: I started playing classical guitar on my 7th birthday after I got it from my father as a gift. We went to concerts together often. I remember one in particular at Carnegie Hall – Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. We saw that and I said, ‘that’s what I want to do. I want to be the person who makes that happen.’ I found out later that the conductor was Leopold Anthony Stokowski, one of the great maestros of our time. When I was 18, I entered a conservatory in New York, studying guitar and conducting. It wasn’t always an easy road, but I was able to study hard and walk through the door.

NRO: Of the many rewarding aspects of conducting orchestras, what do you enjoy most about being on the podium?

JoAnn Falletta: It’s being with the musicians. The music is so overwhelming to me. I can’t imagine a greater artistic legacy than music written for orchestra, but working with musicians and seeing them excel, it grips me. It happens every single time. I don’t think I could live without that. It gives me energy. It gives me inspiration. It gives me life. There are moments you go to Carnegie Hall with your own orchestra. All of those experiences are precious. Working with young people, traveling with young professionals, people who are just beginning their professional lives in music, I remember how I felt as an 18-year-old. Seeing their joy at the end of a performance at how beautifully it went, it’s gratifying.

NRO: How would you distinguish the NRO from other developmental orchestral programs?

JoAnn Falletta: They’re all superbly talented. They’re chosen because of their special gifts. To be in the middle of that, these young people who are going to change the music world, it’s powerful. I’m aware of that, of saying, ‘we’re giving this musical world to you. You’re keeping it alive and thriving.’ And of course, there’s something magical about Breckenridge. I’m not saying that just for myself. I’m saying that for these young musicians who are seeing it for the first time, and the people who are coming to support them and enjoy being in the town. It’s a very special place.

NRO: You have performed in Breckenridge many times, what is particularly special about this Aug. 2 concert?

JoAnn Falletta: This is special because we’re honoring a person we all loved – Charles Wetherbee. Chas is how we knew him, a magnificent violinist. Chas grew up in Buffalo. He has been a hometown hero for many years. He played as a soloist in The Buffalo Philharmonic. I also knew him with the Columbus Symphony. I worked with him a lot, He had a big presence at Breckenridge and came often. We asked his wife what she’d like to hear. She said the piece by Pablo de Sarasate, ‘Gypsy Melodies’ [‘Zigeunerweisen’]. She said she fell in love with him just by hearing him play that. It’s a celebration of his life. He was a person that made everybody happy. The dance piece by Roberto Sierra, ‘Fandagos, is a fun way to start a concert. We’re doing a wonderful piece the young musicians will enjoy, ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ We’re playing a beautiful movement from Jonathan Leshnoff’s fourth symphony. It’s a phenomenal program.

Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet

JoAnn Falletta leads the NRO in Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 2. The performance is in memory of beloved violinist and NRO alumnus Charles Wetherbee and features violin soloist Sean Diehl. The performance is the NRO’s annual Pink Concert. Audience members are encouraged to wear pink to support the fight against cancer. The program includes Roberto Sierra’s “Fandangos,” Jonathan Leshnoff’s “Symphony No. 4 (Mvt. II),” Pablo de Sarasate’s “Zigeunerweisen” and
Sergei Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” Suite. Tickets start at $5 for 17 and under and $20 for adults.

Photo: JoAnn Faletta by Steve J Sherman