ADVERTISEMENT

Once again, JoAnn Falletta has made history.

The popular music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra has accepted the post of chief conductor of the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland.

In the Belfast Telegraph, a reporter by the name of Alf McCreary on Monday wrote: "She is the first woman and the first American to be appointed to this prestigious post, which is one of the most important roles in the arts and cultural life of Northern Ireland."

Falletta's contract in Ulster is for three years. She will have eight engagements with the orchestra in her first season -- a quarter of the orchestra's scheduled concerts.

Her appointment lands Buffalo in the headlines worldwide. It also shows how the world has changed since an earlier era, when American musicians often found themselves unjustly playing second fiddle to Europeans.

"U.S. Conductor Lands British Orchestra," ran the headline of the blog of British author and columnist Norman Lebrecht.

"JoAnn's just the right kind of live wire to blow cobwebs off a band, and just the right kind of personality to spread sweetness and light across the north of Ireland," wrote Lebrecht, who met Falletta on a visit to Buffalo last November.

Most conductors these days have multiple appointments. Falletta, who is in Europe and unavailable to comment, will be racking up the frequent-flier miles with the best of them.

She recently renewed her contract here in Buffalo for the next five years. Last weekend, the smaller Virginia Symphony, where she is also music director, signed her to an additional three years.

Her Irish appointment was announced while she was on stage in Ulster conducting the orchestra. She had flown to Ireland after conducting the Omaha Symphony in two concerts last weekend.

She maintains that she enjoys the fast pace.

"It's ridiculous, but it's so much fun," she told The News in 2006, when asked about it. "It's so energizing. You're making music. And that is such a thrill."

Still, all this activity begs the question: Where is Falletta going to find the time to commute to Ireland?

Dan Hart, the BPO's executive director, does not seem concerned. "Her official contract here is for 18 weeks a year," he says. "You can see that leaves some time. It's hard to keep track of her. She's darting here and there for guest appearances. And I don't know what the Virginia commitment is. But it still leaves a lot of weeks for her to be going [to Ireland].

"I think she feels that this is her home. If you look at the weeks beyond the 18 weeks a year, she still spends most of her time in Buffalo."

Hart says Falletta's increased European presence could boost the BPO.

Formed in 1966 and based in Belfast, the Ulster Orchestra is Northern Ireland's only professional symphony orchestra. It employs 63 full-time musicians. The orchestra has made some 70 recordings, notably for Chandos, Naxos, BMG and Hyperion. It also has an ongoing broadcast partnership with the BBC.

"She's certainly an important figurehead for the BPO and our brand," Hart says. "I think the fact that there's going to be a BBC presence will spur interest in our CDs and the CD projects we have going. People will be interested in what she's done and what she's doing.

"JoAnn can't help promoting us no matter where she goes. People need to realize what a great ambassador she is to Buffalo and this region."

Jet lag did not seem to be an issue as Falletta spoke with the Belfast Telegraph.

"The Ulster Orchestra is one of the great orchestras of these islands and it has been a cornerstone of cultural life here in good times and bad for many years," she said. "So it is a huge honor for me to become its principal conductor."

The post as chief conductor of the Ulster Orchestra had been vacant since the retirement of Kenneth Montgomery, who was born in Belfast. Previous chief conductors have been established Europeans and include Dmitry Sitkovetsky, a Russian conductor who is the son of pianist Bella Davidovich, and Yan Pascal Tortelier, the son of cellist Paul Tortelier.

Ulster is the hometown of concert pianist Barry Douglas, who is scheduled to appear on next year's BPO season. Falletta's association with the orchestra began last year, when she conducted one of the BBC's Invitation Concerts.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com