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'Champion' of women composers to lead The Florida Orchestra this weekend

A woman with dark hair is seen waving her arms to conduct, she is in profile, her dark hair framing her face.
Mark Dellas
/
Conductor JoAnn Falletta leads the Florida Orchestra in a pair of concerts this weekend.

Buffalo Philharmonic Music Director JoAnn Falletta leads the Florida Orchestra in concerts about two strong women — one fictitious, the other real.

Conductor JoAnn Falletta has had a reputation for putting forward the music of women composers since she was appointed conductor of The Women's Philharmonic in San Francisco, while she was still a student at Juilliard.

"And I just decided that I was going to try and and first of all, adjust my way of thinking about music in the world, but also try to promote women and in general, underplayed composers as much as I could," she said.

Such a concept may be easy to embrace now, but in the 1990s, Falletta said there was a reluctance to add these works to programs because many of the pieces — and the women composers themselves — were rather obscure.

"Ticket sales, etcetera. Sometimes, The Woman's Philharmonic and I used to work with manuscripts, I mean with handwritten parts, and other orchestras didn't seem to be willing to do that. But in some cases, the music simply only existed in the composer's handwriting. But I've seen it changing now and I'm so glad about that. And we have so many women today, living...writing music. It's really wonderful," Falletta said.

This weekend, she will lead The Florida Orchestra in a program that includes Clara Schumann's "Piano Concerto in A," featuring soloist Alexandra Dariescu, and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," which is based on the mostly Middle Eastern and Indian stories known as The Thousand and One Nights.

Falletta calls the title character an 'unlikely heroine.'

"The person who actually saves her country from from the wrath of the khalif by her creativity, by the wonderful story she imagines and tells him. So I think that the program has really evolved in a beautiful way about celebrating women."

Clara Wieck Schumann was a woman ahead of her time. Gifted both as a pianist and composer, Falletta described her piano concerto as "a virtual social piece, because she could play that. I mean, she was a fantastic, phenomenal prodigy pianist. So she wrote it for herself and a very difficult undertaking for a pianist, but brilliant."

Schumann lived at a time when women were not encouraged to pursue music as a career.

"She was so imaginative and so gifted," Falletta said. "Who knows what she would have written, had she been encouraged to continue?"

As for her approach to conducting with The Florida Orchestra, Falletta said she may come in with a strong idea of what she is looking for and it's "very important to hear that the performance of the piece (reflects) the sum total of who the musicians are."

She compares it to a director leading a group of actors in a play.

"And they're interpreting Shakespeare's Hamlet, for instance, they bring a lot of what that play is going to be like, of course, the sound of their voice, their concept of who Hamlet is, their own projection of their life into that role. And the director has to leave room for that, because that's too much talent that cannot be ignored, the same way with an orchestra," Falletta said.

The Florida Orchestra concerts directed by JoAnn Falletta are this weekend in St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

I love telling stories about my home state. And I hope they will help you in some way and maybe even lift your spirits.