This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on July 27, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at

Music Academy Corner

JoAnn Falletta | Credit: Enid Bloch

Long before the gender playing field in orchestral conducting came close to being addressed to the degree it is currently, there was JoAnn Falletta, who leads the Academy Festival Orchestra at The Granada Theatre on Saturday night, July 29. Women have slowly but steadily made their way to major conductor podiums in recent years, gradually tipping the balance from a once male-ruled realm. The subject even infiltrated one of last year’s most artful — if innately controversial — “Hollywood” films, Todd Field’s Tár, starring Cate Blanchett as a driven and semi-tyrannical maestra.

But the roster of important trailblazers in the female conducting world was a short list, including Marin Alsop and Falletta. Although Falletta’s acclaimed conducting career hit its high-profile stride when she took over the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1998, it should be noted that her first claimed music director stake was as head of the Long Beach Symphony, from 1989 to 2000. I had the pleasure of reviewing many LBS concerts for the Los Angeles Times in the ‘90s, a period when a sense of her forthcoming rise in the broader classical world seemed a sure fate. From a 1993 review: “Music Director JoAnn Falletta sculpts spacious, clear gestures in the air, and generally favors clarity over excessive emoting. The orchestra responds keenly, with a reliable expressivity.” Now 30 years hence, she is renowned for knowing and getting what she wants from an orchestra.

Hannu Lintu | Credit: Veikko Kähkönen

Since heading to Buffalo, Falletta has gone on to serve as guest conductor for 100 orchestras, performed in Carnegie Hall and garnered Grammy awards, including one in 2019 for her album Fuchs: Piano Concerto ‘Spiritualist.’ That album was but one component of what has become a formidable discography — more than 120 titles, many for the Naxos label — with an emphasis on recording new music by American composers and obscure works. This year’s Falletta-led Naxos model (listen up here) showcases a violin concerto by film composer Danny Elfman and a piano concerto by Adolphus Hailstork, the black composer whose Falletta–conducted American Port of Call album from 2012 features the moving “Spirituals for Orchestra.”

Falletta returns to Southern California for her short tenure with the Music Academy, leading the young but unreasonably gifted AFO on a program opening with Roberto Sierra’s spicily melodic Fandangos, and traipsing through Ravel’s tipsy masterwork La Valse, and Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances, Opus 45.” For a more up close and personal encounter, a “Meet the Conductor” event takes place around the corner from the Granada, at Sullivan Goss Gallery at 6 p.m. on July 29.
Saturday’s symphonic outing is the next-to-last of a five-concert Music Academy series led by important conductors. The series, and the Academy’s overall summer festival calendar, reaches its finale on August 5, with conductor Hannu Lintu leading the charges.

Check the calendar here.

TO-DOINGS–Music with a View:

Cody Westheimer and his family performing at the Botanic Garden | Credit: Leslie Dinaberg

To get to one of the most scenic summer music ops in Santa Barbara, head up to the Botanic Gardens and climb up to the outpost perch of the Pritzlaff Conservation Center. There, imbibe the panoramic views and the gentle unplugged sounds courtesy of the “Summer Serenade” picnic-concert series. The series kicked off a couple of weeks back with string quartet music by and curated by Cody Westheimer and continues on Saturday, July 29, with music of the singer-songwriter variety curated by the pop-up event specialists at Galavant. Info here.

For a left-of-normal beach going experience, fans of meditative music and al fresco settings should consider heading to Leadbetter Beach on Sunday evening, July 30, for your not-so-basic “MindTravel Live-to-Headphones ‘Silent’ Piano Experience.” Meditational/new age pianist Murray Hidary, who has brought the “experience” to such sites as Lincoln Center, Burning Man, Grace Cathedral and beaches and parks far and wide, supplies the sonic atmosphere, delivered to ticket-holders through special headphones, with sand at the feet and waves in the periphery. Info here.


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