Web Exclusive: JoAnn Falletta Well Noted

Well Noted

The celebrated JoAnn Falletta. Photo by David A. Beloff of David Adam Beloff Photography.

Maestra JoAnn Falletta Celebrates 20 Years With Virginia Symphony Orchestra

By Kimberley Cuachon-Haugh

The Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel’s valet parking was jiving and with each car door opened there immerged a Gatsby-esque dame.  With the likes of a 1925 Franklin Sedan, vintage waves, boas, fringes and fishnets alongside tuxes, it was a gather-one-and-all event for the Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s (VSO) Gala.  This event was particularly special as it honored maestra JoAnn Falletta’s 20th anniversary with the symphony and was thus titled Falletta Follies.  

Centerpieces with peacock plumes and white florals adorned the room atop royal blue lamé table cloths. The décor, combined with 530 elegantly dressed guests perusing the ballroom floors, made it clear that gala chair Andria McClellan and her committee added just a bit more sparkle this year.     

Ballroom dancers  Zhenya and Rebekah Klyukin from A Time to Dance Studio in Virginia Beach christened the dance floor with their rendition of Night and Day, 42nd Street, and So In Love.  McClellan along with fellow co-chair Win Short were the masters of ceremony for the evening, a dynamic duo indeed.

The night’s event became personal with the video tribute to Falletta, produced by Studio Center, which illustrated Falletta’s career through the eyes of her peers.  Words such as “visionary” and “inspirational” were used to describe Falletta.  Philanthropist Clay Barr talked about VSO’s past search for a music director and the number of entries they received.  Philanthropist Mari Ann Banks noted that when Falletta was given the job she was only one of two female conductors in the United States at the time.  The eight minute video also included commentary from VSO’s principle musicians and Virginia Arts Festival Director Robert Cross who is also VSO’s principle percussionist.  To add to the list was Pulitzer Music Winner and composer Jennifer Higdon who acknowledged Falletta’s “great interpretive quality.”  Todd Rosenlieb, creative director of Todd Rosenlieb Dance, gave his personal remarks about Falletta’s contribution to the arts in Hampton Roads, along with Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim who expressed his wishes  that Falletta be around for the next twenty years.  A compilation of this was put together in a book by the committee called Love Notes to JoAnn, which Falletta graciously received almost in tears.

In between the honey-baked, ash-ripened goat cheese baby mesclun salad topped with sweet Madeira vinaigrette and the duo of chicken boursin and Chesapeake crab cake, attendees enjoyed performances from the Symphony’s strings and woodwinds followed by a display from Todd Rosenlieb Dance.  The company was accompanied live, just as Todd Rosenlieb’s late mentor Erick Hawkins would have had it, to Lucky Day, Honeysuckle Rose, and The Joint is Jumpin’ with vocals by VSO’s chorusmaster and staff conductor, Robert Shoup.

After the reading of a personal thank you from First Lady Michelle Obama, so commenced the live auction which included art pieces, a Jazz trip to New Orleans, and tickets to Musical Gift: Franz Liszt’s 200th. Dinner followed with Falletta on Norfolk Southern’s vintage 1920s rail car, the “Virginia.

The take home for Falletta was a commissioned art piece from a young Seattle glass artist, April Surgent.  Another gift to Falletta was the news that the VSO’s Stephens Challenge raised more than its $250,000 goal, which will benefit the Symphony.

Après formalities, Falletta finally took center stage in a long black vintage gown that showed off her slender figure and a sparkling headpiece that a woman with only that much poise and grace could pull off.  Falletta began, “I was more frightened about tonight than any symphony because of having to wear this dress.”  However, the trembling in her voice was from holding the tears back. “I could never find a way to say what the last twenty years has meant to me…I have never had the stewardship of a cultural center like this.”  Falletta then turned the glory over to her musicians. “They have redefined what music means to me…I carry their interpretation and their sound everywhere with me.”  With her arms out to the audience, Falletta continued, “There are many people in this room tonight who I have learned from and loved for twenty years…this has without a doubt been the most deeply gratifying experience of my life and there will never be another orchestra that I will love for a fraction as I love the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.”

As the perfect complement to Falletta, the Tidewater Classical Guitar Society took center stage.  If only we could have seen Falletta take the solo with her classical guitar demonstrating the more quiet and peaceful world that is her address, which guitarist and Norfolk State Professor Sam Dorsey expressed on video.  The Virginia Symphony Chorus was the coup de grace with S’Wonderful, Let’s Do It, and Night and Day—the swan song that finished the evening just as it started.        

For more information on the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, visit www.virginiasymphony.org.

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