Arts & Culture

Wichita Symphony Orchestra to welcome renowned conductor

Andrew Russo
Andrew Russo Courtesy photo

Name a famous city and JoAnn Falletta has probably conducted there.

Falletta, a New York City native, won two Grammy Awards and has been nominated for 10. With 85 recordings under her belt, Falletta loves classical music of all kinds. In Wichita next weekend, she’ll conduct works by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Alexander Borodin and Camille Saint-Saens.

This conductor has worked with prestigious symphonies from Paris to London to New York and introduced more than 500 works by U.S. composers, including 110 world premieres.

She cites her work at The Juilliard School as instrumental in her success, especially the classes she took from Leonard Bernstein.

“He was a larger-than-life person,” Falletta said. “He was filled with vital energy. He said the emotion and passion in music is the most important (aspect).”

Bernstein taught Falletta about the drama inherent in music and how it resonates with listeners’ emotions.

Falletta, who began conducting at 18, uses Bernstein’s lessons each time she holds the baton. Falletta serves as the conductor for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. After her concert in Wichita, she will travel to 13 cities with the Irish Chamber Orchestra and virtuoso flutist James Galway. She’ll also conduct in China, Warsaw and Puerto Rico before year’s end.

Falletta calls Tchaikovsky “kind of the soul of Russia.”

Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) composed his second symphony while visiting his sister in the Ukraine. He was charmed by the folk songs he heard during his visit and used many of them as inspiration for his symphony.

“It’s his happiest symphony,” Falletta said. “It’s filled with peacefulness and charm.”

The Overture to fellow Russian composer Alexander Borodin’s (1833-1887) “Prince Igor” will begin the concert.

“This piece is shining with virtuosity,” Falletta said. “It’s very dramatic and tremendously vibrant.”

Between the Russian bookends will be French composer Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 4, composed in 1875.

“This piece shows Saint-Saens at his most creative,” Falletta said. “It’s a great display of his technical virtuosity.”

Andrew Russo will be at the keyboard.

Pianist Russo is a Renaissance man. He’s worked as an investment adviser, politician and director of music. This Juilliard-trained musician is also the son of a minor league baseball player. Although he works with money by day, Russo continues to perform as a soloist around the world.

Russo said that Saint-Saens (1835-1921), a child prodigy and piano virtuoso, wrote spectacularly for the instrument. “It has great structure, and it really builds,” he said.

Falletta has conducted Russo both on stage and in the recording studio. They collaborated with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and produced Paul Schoenfield’s “Four Parables/Four Souvenirs.” Two years ago, Russo performed Gershwin’s music with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.

If you go

Wichita Symphony Orchestra presents Tchaikovsky’s Second

Special guests: Andrew Russo, JoAnn Falletta

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Jan. 18

Tickets: $19-$57, 316-267-7658 or www.wichitasymphony.org

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