Stars and students are “conducted” behind the scenes by powerhouse coordination
The Brevard Music Center Summer Institute & Festival has hit a high note this year with its featured women performers. When the ten-week event officially opens its 2019 performance season on June 21, the principal guest conductor at the podium leading the Brevard Music Center Orchestra through an all-Tchaikovsky concert will be Grammy winner JoAnn Falletta, recently named Performance Today’s “Classical Woman of the Year.” The featured musician for Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto” will be celebrated violinist Chee-Yun.
Out of the spotlight, but essential to the flawless execution of not just opening night but almost 100 performances at multiple venues on- and off-campus over the course of ten weeks, is Brevard Music Center Director of Production Andrea Boccanfuso, an assistant professor who coordinates theater for Brevard College in the festival’s off season.
Among a full roster of guest artists, “we are proud to be highlighting many extraordinary women,” says Cally Jamis Vennare, Brevard Music Center’s director of marketing and communications. “In addition to JoAnn Falletta and Chee-Yun, we will welcome young conductor Ruth Reinhardt and opera stage director Dorothy Danner [sister-in-law of actor Blythe Danner, who is Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother].” The list of other featured female musicians and vocalists includes Parisian cellist Camille Thomas, included last year in Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” roster of rising stars.
However, “Andrea is the glue that holds us all together with her production and stage crew, juggling so many balls,” notes Vennare.
Both Falletta and Boccanfuso are testament to the phrase “If you want something done, ask a busy woman.” When Falletta was appointed music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic in 1999, she became the first woman to lead a major American ensemble. Her discography lists more than 115 titles, and in 2019, she won her first individual Grammy as conductor of the London Symphony, in the “Best Classical Compendium” category. She has guest conducted more than 100 orchestras, and in 2019-20 will raise her baton in Ireland, Sweden, Germany, and across the United States.
Brevard Music Festival is close to her heart, though. “I’ve been going for the last decade or so, and feel very lucky to have this relationship with this organization,” says Falletta. “It’s an environment of great joy and fun in a beautiful setting.”
Some years, Falletta has conducted the opening night of the festival, and other years, the season finale (much depends on Artistic Director Keith Lockhart’s schedule). She values both slots. “I’ve had the chance to experience Brevard in all its stages, from the first chaotic but exciting week, to the last week when we’re all sad it’s over. It’s like a summer-camp experience in all the very best ways.”
Every summer, the festival welcomes 500 students (culled from 2,500 applications), aged 14 through post college, to the forested 180-acre campus. It’s an intense time, giving young people the chance to study and perform with a faculty from the world’s leading orchestras, conservatories, and universities.
“We are a mission-driven festival,” Vennare explains. Core programming directly prepares high-school and college students for professional careers in music.
Faculty and students comprise six different ensembles. Two of those will fall under Falletta’s direction during opening weekend: the Tchaikovsky concert by the Brevard Music Center Orchestra — primarily college-division students with some faculty — and, two nights later, the college-division Brevard Sinfonia performing “Church Windows” and “Trail of Tears” featuring flutist Amy Porter, winner of BMC’s 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award.
“We start work the Monday before, and each orchestra rehearses once a day,” says Vennare. “Professionals are used to that, but for young people, it’s a new way of working. It’s a little overwhelming, but also exciting. It’s delightful to see them grow … really transforming.”
Boccanfuso, the conductor behind the scenes, so to speak, is a direct witness to that transformation. Preparing and managing every event for the entire season, she works with a crew of about 55 people from different departments. “It’s my job to make sure every single one of them is doing everything they need to be doing to move the productions forward,” she says. “We cover house management,
orchestra preparations, opera stage management, carpentry, lighting, sound, scenic props, costumes, wigs, and make-up.”
She notes that the operation moves in tiers. “I work on an island, metaphorically speaking, for a long time. I have a couple of key people who start in March or April, then in mid May, the first wave of staff comes in, followed by a second wave of middle management, then a third wave of apprentices.”
Then the students arrive. “They’re homesick, it’s their first job, they’re anxious. I’m as much therapist as anything else,” admits Boccanfuso. “To see them learn and grow, and leave with such a sense of accomplishment, is so rewarding. I believe in this mission wholeheartedly. It really is magic. Every summer, it’s our own Brigadoon.”
Brevard Music Center Summer Festival officially opens on Friday, June 21, 7:30pm at Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium with an “All Tchaikovsky” concert — Selections from “Swan Lake,” “Violin Concerto,” and “Symphony No. 5” — conducted by JoAnn Falletta and featuring violinist Chee-Yun. Tickets start at $20. For a complete list of concerts June through August, plus ticket information, see brevardmusic.org.