By Rich Kellman, Senior Correspondent
What makes an effective leader? For the answer, we need look no farther than Kleinhans Music Hall, home of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
JoAnn Falletta is in her 12th year as BPO music director, and is amazed at what's happened over the past decade or so. "I could never have imagined the growth that took place in these 12 years," she says. "I mean, looking back now and seeing where we came from where we are, just this feeling of a blossoming of the BPO, of a very good time for us."
She arrived at the right time for the orchestra. "We had to make a decision," she says. "Are we going to help the orchestra to be the best it can be?"
The BPO was founded after the Great Depression as a government WPA project. Some of the world's most distinguished conductors have been its music director. And today, it is financially stable while many other orchestras are struggling, or have shut down. "I think it's really attributable to this city and to the love that this city has for the orchestra," she says. "The City rallied, our board stepped forward and said, 'This is the time. We're going to make this orchestra come back, with strength, with renewed vigor, with a mission for excellence.' They did it."
JoAnn herself would be the last person to take credit for what the BPO has accomplished. She credits the musicians and the audience, the city and the community. Board Chair Cindy Abbott Letro tells us, "She's a very kind person, she's a thoughtful person, she's a real person." She is, says Letro, a visionary. "We wouldn't have the Grammys, she moved us into recordings."
JoAnn and the orchestra premiered music by Marcel Tyberg, who died in the Holocaust . They recorded his music. "She moved us into this relationship that we have with Naxos (the record label,) which is amazing. We are heard by millions of people around the world because of the recordings," says Letro. "he was the right person at the right time."
JoAnn's audience also sees something else. Call it likeability, call it charisma. Concertgoer Vanessa Vari of Buffalo says, "Our family thinks she's just the cutest."
"Cute?" we laugh.
"She's small," Vari explains. "It's captivating because she doesn't have to do much with her smallness to bring out something very big."
Joann has received many awards. She received UB's Norton Medal for community service. She was inducted last year into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame. She's also been music director of the Virginia Symphony for 20 years, and was recently named principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland. But she lives in Buffalo most of the year. "Buffalo is my home," she says.
Joann gives guitar recitals from time to time with her husband and fellow musician Robert Alemany. They were married in 1986.
She was born and grew up in Queens, New York. Her parents were children of Italian immigrants. . "On my seventh birthday, my father gave me a gift of a little guitar, a tiny guitar, a classical guitar," she tells us, "and he'd made arrangements for the next day for private lessons.
JoAnn continues, "I remember, some of my most beautiful memories of my father are me teaching him guitar, can you imagine, and me playing duets with him.".
BPO concertmaster Michael Ludwig says, "JoAnn brings so much to the orchestra, to the community. There's leadership, vision, great artistry, and just an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm. She's a dynamic presence here in Buffalo."
Her book of poetry, Love Letters to Music, is dedicated to the memory of her parents. She writes of entering the world of music as a child "...a wordless realm that continues to astonish me."
"It fills us with joy," she says, "it fills us with a sense of possibility, it fills us with the sense that human beings can do something wonderful."
And there's no better example of that than today's Buffalo Philharmonic. Joann will continue her busy schedule. She recently signed on for five more years with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Imagine that.