Erin Freeman, an Atlanta native who since 2007 has been assistant conductor of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra in Virginia, was named music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus on Friday.
Freeman, 40, was one of three main candidates who had been under consideration since last summer. The other two were tenor Gerald Gray and University at Buffalo professor Roland Martin. Martin had been serving as acting director since the controversial dismissal in January 2012 of the chorus’ previous director, the celebrated Doreen Rao.
The smart money has been on Freeman ever since last winter, when Buffalo got to know her under dramatic circumstances. In February, she stepped up to the podium at the last minute to conduct the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus in “Wicked Divas,” a pops concert in Kleinhans Music Hall. She was pinch-hitting for conductor Ron Spigelman, whose flight had been grounded.
Freeman’s energy and easy sense of humor endeared her on that occasion to the Kleinhans crowd. The singers in the chorus were impressed by her musicianship and versatility.
“She was superb,” BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta told The Buffalo News in an email. “The audience and orchestra loved her.”
Freeman went on to conduct a BPO performance of Handel’s “Messiah” and prepare the chorus for Mozart’s “Requiem.” In March, she conducted another pops concert, a tribute to the Rat Pack.
“During our search process we had the opportunity to work with many incredibly talented conductors, but what made Erin stand out was her ability to inspire both the chorus and orchestra and to achieve the best possible performance from all,” said Holly Grant, president of the Philharmonic Chorus. “She is an exceptional musician whose creativity, passion and commitment truly complement our vision for the future of the chorus. We are extremely excited to have Erin join the Buffalo Philharmonic family.”
In a way, Freeman was already a peripheral member of the Buffalo Philharmonic family.
She first came to the chorus’ attention because in Virginia, she had worked with Falletta. In addition to leading the BPO, Falletta is music director of the Virginia Symphony, and Freeman had prepared the chorus for that orchestra’s performance of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony.
“Erin is a consummate professional, a great musician and a great deal of fun to have as a friend and colleague,” Falletta told The News earlier this year.
“We taught a conducting master class together with the Richmond Symphony, and she was wonderful, insightful, caring and filled with good will,” she said.
The Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus has been on a slow and much-talked-about journey toward harmony since Rao’s departure in January 2012. Rao now leads the new Buffalo Master Chorale, which includes some singers who left the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus in protest over her dismissal.
Rao, a recognized force in the choral world, exudes an attractively bombastic sense of power. Freeman, who jokes about being Southern and petite, appears to have a more low-key charm.
As director, she faces the task of guiding the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus on its continued quest to refresh its ranks and regain its stability.
Asked Thursday evening how she hoped to achieve that, Freeman laughed at first. “I just flew in two hours ago,” she joked.
She added, more seriously: “I think one of the first things I am looking forward to is working in a collaborate way to determine what our joint dreams are. Everyone wants excellence.”
She said she is a looking forward to getting to work.
Freeman will be moving to Buffalo with her husband, whom she met when they were students at Boston University.