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JoAnn Falletta Helps Introduce West to East through Music

By Azim Ahmed, Salam Toronto



JoAnn Falletta has been hailed within the music community as one of the brightest stars of symphonic music. She is a world-renowned conductor who has guest-conducted in front of the finest orchestra's of the world; including Lisbon (Portugal), Cape town (South Africa), Kanazawa (Japan) and the Hague, not to mention New York City and Los Angeles. She has performed at New York City's famed Carnegie Hall many times, and conducted a Grammy-nominated piece with the London Symphony Orchestra.


But it is the upcoming Shahnameh Millennium Concert here in Toronto (August 2nd) that she anticipates could very well be her career highlight.


"I think for me the most memorable are concerts I've done at Carnegie Hall with my own orchestras," Falletta tells Salam Toronto in an exclusive interview. "But I think this one (Persian Trilogy) is going to be something that may be even more amazing to me than that. Because this will be the first time I will have the opportunity to work in this special multimedia situation for an audience of scholars who I hope will be moved and touched and impressed by what they hear and by what they see."


Recently acclaimed by the New York Times as "one of the finest conductors of her generation", JoAnn Falletta currently serves as the Music Director for both the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. She is a very dedicated advocate for her orchestras. She was recently named Buffalo's most influential community leader, and during her tenure there, attendance and outreach activities have increased, as well as the reestablishment of the popular summer Artpark series. In 2006, Falletta was inducted into the Western New York Women's Hall of Fame, and was also inducted into Norfolk's Legends of Music Walk of Fame in recognition of her influence on the appreciation of classical music in Hampton Roads and Virginia.


She met Shahnahmeh's Persian Trilogy composer Behzad Ranjbaran while both were studying at the Julliard School of music in New York, and have collaborated on a number of pieces together.


She adds, "I am an enormous fan of Bezhad's music and I think he's one of the greatest voices that we have in this very special synthesis of eastern and western music."


The Iranian-born and New York-trained Ranjbaran in turn has a great deal of respect for Falletta's music, as he chose to have her conduct over himself. Moreover, she's learned a great deal about Persian compositions and styles from him over the 10 years they've worked together on this project.


"I've learned what I know through Behzad, who of course in our project together in composing the Persian trilogy told me a great deal about the legend and about how the music shapes the story," Falletta explains. "Of course, the music he's writing is a fantastic combination of something that is 1,000 years old and a western language as well with the orchestra playing. And that's how I really came to know about the legend, about how important they are, and how his music represents them."


JoAnn Falletta


And despite being outside the Iranian culture, it has not stopped her from developing a pure appreciation for the work.


"I don't think it was difficult because in many ways the philosophy behind these wonderful legends and remarkable Persian Trilogy is something that is so human and something intrinsic as to who we are as people," she says.


It is this common theme of music as a universal language that drew Falletta to the legends of Shahnameh, and she feels this commonality of humanity will draw other non-Iranians as well.


"Its very moving to me to see in a way how interconnected we are. This story can be used for all over the world and as human beings we all share something unspoken about who we are and how we discover ourselves, how we think about our roots. To me it was fascinating and also very comfortable, and it was something I could identify with even as an outsider."


But what are her thoughts on the fusing of western and eastern elements?


"I think what it's done in a sense is give the orchestra new life," Falletta says. "Because the orchestra is very western in nature, and now all of a sudden with this fusion of new sounds, new sensibilities, new colours, it is as if the orchestra has been reborn."


This won't be the first cross-cultural musical performance for the New York City-based conductor however. In fact, she has done Chinese, Japanese, South Korean and even Cambodian works in addition to the 10 years she has been working with Ranjbaran on the Trilogy.


"We have this whole new palette available to us," she says about fusing cultures. "We will see more and more of this and this is extremely welcome. I know orchestra musicians enjoy very much in coming to understand cultures through music. It's a great benefit and a great honour for us."  


Ms. Falletta counts one of her other highlights in going to London with Behzad Ranjbaran and performing the Persian Trilogy with the London Symphony Orchestra.


"Because I was able to see the musicians in London discover his music and enjoy playing it, and play it with great passion and commitment," she exclaims. "I think on a purely artistic musical level the pieces are incredibly vibrant and strong, and musicians from all over recognize this."


With the August 2nd Shahnahmeh Millennium Concert just weeks away, and with scholars from the Iranian Studies Conference expected to be present at Roy Thomson Hall that evening, not to mention thousands of eager Iranian-Canadians, there will certainly be pressure to get this concert right. Particularly since this will be the first performance of the Trilogy in its entirety.


"Of course with the first one there is always a little bit of the unknown, especially with so many little things involved," Falletta describes. "The telling of the story, the poetry, the projection of the images, the orchestra playing this music, it's a very big undertaking."


The orchestra has had the music to look at and practice for some time now, and will also spend full rehearsals with Falletta to work the timing and music flawlessly together once she arrives in Toronto 3-4 days prior to the concert. But while she has worked with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the past, she has never met with the renowned storyteller, Morshed Torabi, who is making his North American debut and whom Falletta is very much thrilled to work with. 


Torabi's recitation of the Shahnameh will be interspersed between the music, and will certainly involve a lot of rehearsing and practice.  


"That will require a little bit of coordination on my part to know exactly how much space he needs, how much time he needs, to flow from the words into the music, and vice versa," she says. "So we need to make a real connection there, we will have to rehearse and it will take awhile to work out. I will be with Behzad to try to understand how best to make this work."


After their first full performance at the Shahnameh Millennium concert on August 2nd, Ranjbaran, Falletta and Torabi plan on performing the trilogy again in Los Angeles and other cities. Just a week after the Toronto show, Falletta and Ranjbaran will be at the Chautauqua Institute in New York to perform a part of the trilogy.


For all her renown and experience, JoAnn Falletta still gets excited for big moments such as this one. She has never done anything quite like the Shahnameh Millennium concert, with its complete multimedia experience and visual effects. 


"I'm not sure how often this kind of thing has been done," she says. "It may be a first that we have this kind of multimedia event and it should be an extremely powerful experience."

... Payvand News - 08/01/08 ... --

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