JoAnn Falletta is to be the new principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra.
The American conductor will be the first woman to take the top job at the Belfast-based ensemble. Her appointment, announced at the 2011-12 season launch, sees her step into a post previously occupied by, among others, Bryden Thomson, Vernon Handley and Yan Pascal Tortelier.
Falletta will continue to be music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic in New York State, where she has been notably successful in the past decade, increasing attendances, making acclaimed recordings, and netting the orchestra two Grammy awards (their first ever) in the process.
Declan McGovern, chief executive of the Ulster Orchestra, is particularly excited by Falletta’s natural expertise in the music of her native country: a special Festival of the Americas concert will open this year’s Belfast Festival at Queen’s in October, where Falletta, a former pupil of Leonard Bernstein, will conduct his On the Town Suite, Copland’s Latin American Sketches, and Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm Variations (with soloist Joanna MacGregor).
Falletta’s renowned skills as a communicator will also be utilised at an Audience With…. concert in the Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey, where she will personally introduce a programme including Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 with local soprano Rebekah Coffey.
Falletta first conducted the orchestra at the 2010 BBC Summer Invitation Concerts. ‘I loved the spontaneity and energy of the musicians,’ she says. ‘The Ulster Orchestra is one of the great orchestras of these islands and has been a cornerstone of cultural life here in good times and bad for many, many years now. It is a huge honour for me to become its principal conductor.’