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JoAnn Falletta leaving Virginia Symphony in 2020, plans to spend more time in Buffalo

For all the years JoAnn Falletta has been music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, she has simultaneously held the post as music director of the Virginia Symphony.

Now, after 27 years with that orchestra, Falletta is ending her tenure as music director there. She took the post in Virginia in 1991 and will be leaving as of June 2020. That is the year the Virginia orchestra turns 100 years old.

"As I reflect on all that the musicians and I have been able to accomplish together, I've never been prouder or more excited for the future of this unique orchestra," she said, making the announcement. "Now as the VSO approaches its 100th anniversary, a remarkable achievement for any performing group, I'm enormously grateful for the innumerable friendships I have made here, and the love and support the community has shown toward me and our musicians.”

Falletta is currently in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is judging the Nicolai Malko Competition For Young Conductors, which began April 19 and lasts until April 26.

She told The News in an email that she would be staying on with the BPO.

"I will keep my apartment in Virginia for a kind of vacation place, and plan to spend more time in Buffalo," she wrote. She added that she would continue her guest conducting as well.

She explained that she had timed her departure from the Virginia Symphony to be gradual.

"I wanted to protect the orchestra and to ensure its artistic and financial success when I am not there. I was originally planning to stay through our 100th season (in '20-'21) but feared that the absence of artistic leadership might be difficult for them at that point," she wrote. "So I decided to overlap my last two years."

In the upcoming 2018-2019 season, she will continue to serve as music director in Virginia full-time. The following season, she will cut back sharply on her concert obligations there, as the orchestra concludes its search for her successor.

"That way, as I am leaving, they will be ready to welcome the new music director without any vacuum of artistic leadership," she said. "After all these years together, their success and stability is extremely important to me."

The VSO credits Falletta with putting it on the map musically. She has taken the Virginia orchestra by invitation to Carnegie Hall and to the Kennedy Center. She has also made numerous recordings with the VSO, and commissioned new works.

Frequently, Falletta would perform a piece with the BPO after first playing it with the Virginia Symphony.

“JoAnn has set us up beautifully to begin our second century," Virginia Symphony Orchestra president and CEO Karen Philion said in a statement. "Thanks to her visionary leadership we are in a terrific place as an organization and poised to capitalize on all she and the musicians have accomplished as we look forward to the next exciting chapter. JoAnn’s legacy will serve as a wonderful foundation on which we will continue to build.”

Falletta was not specific about her reasons for leaving the Virginia orchestra. But she has a large number of musical commitments around the world, and it is easy to imagine why she might need to cut back.

Coordinating schedules at two separate orchestras can prove problematic. Earlier this month, when the BPO musicians returned from their triumphant tour of Poland, commitments in Virginia kept Falletta from joining them in their first concert back home in Kleinhans Music Hall.

On Facebook on April 19, announcing her imminent departure from the VSO, Falletta called it a bittersweet decision."

She is popular there as she is in Buffalo, judging from the accolades she has received. She was “Norfolk Downtowner of the Year” in 2011. She has received a star on the Norfolk Legends of Music Walk of Fame, the “Virginia Women in History Award” in 2013 and the “50 for 50 Arts Inspiration Award” from the Virginia Commission for the Arts in 2018.

Virginians on Facebook quickly reached out to her.

"As a member of the Virginia Symphony Chorus I remain deeply grateful for the years of making music with you," wrote a singer, Kari Skipper Foster. "Thank you for the passion, humanity and excellence that you have so generously shared with us. I cannot begrudge your decision but am so sad to know that our concerts together are definitively numbered. I wish you much joy."

Another friend and fan, Gail Pittman, expressed similar sentiments.

"You have been central to the most important musical moments I've been blessed to experience," she wrote. "Audiences can never know how emotional and empowering it is to see your face when you conduct the VSO and VSOC. That special relationship just never ceases to inspire and create amazing beauty. I will continue to thank you until our very last concert together."

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