Julie Amacher, Classical MPR
JoAnn Falletta and the BPO — Light in a Time of Darkness (Beau Fleuve)
Michelangelo Buonarroti's sculpture 'Pieta' is housed in St. Peter's Basilica. Stanislav Traykov/Wikipedia
“I found that the smaller concerts we did all the time during the 2021 season were fantastic for us in developing new skills,” said JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. “We learned how to listen and lead each other in repertoire that we never played.
“We made a recording of some of our favorite pieces from that time, because they were meaningful. Every concert is meaningful, but, somehow, when you're playing in the middle of something as dark as what we lived through, it meant ‘life,’’’ she said about their new recording, Light in a Time of Darkness.
“Six pieces made it onto the disc, and I think we'll always treasure, in our memories, the idea of being together and knowing that somehow we would get through this.”
Why did you choose to start the album with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis?
“Time gets suspended in this piece. Vaughan Williams, on his way back to Thomas Tallis, chose one of his hymns to recast for strings. It feels ageless or timeless. That was what the pandemic was like, time standing still.”
How did you discover Ulysses Kay’s Pieta?
“I have to give complete credit to my English hornist, Anna Mattix. She is a sleuth for English horn pieces, and she's fabulous. She rediscovered this piece, and there was no recording when she brought it to me. I thought it was extraordinary.
“Kay was the first Black American to win the Prix de Rome. When he was in Rome, he went to see Michelangelo's Pieta and wrote this piece about it. It is filled with his personal reflection on that work of art.”
What do you love most about George Walker's Lament?
“I'm so glad we did this piece. I think this is an American classic. We talk about Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, but this is a similar piece. It's a piece of mourning and in Walker's case, it is more intimate. It has a lot of inner feeling of mourning, but it's unforgettable.”
To hear the rest of my conversation, download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Editor's note: This is a related album, but not the one in the interview. If you'd like to listen to the featured album, you can order a physical CD here.