This award honors an individual artist in any discipline for their achievements in the previous year. Three finalists will be named. The winner of this category will be announced at the Spark Awards.
JoAnn Falletta is internationally celebrated as a vibrant ambassador for music, an inspiring artistic leader, and a champion of American symphonic music. Upon her appointment as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, she became the first woman to lead a major American ensemble. She has since been credited with bringing the Philharmonic to a new level of national and international prominence. The orchestra has become one of the leading recording orchestras for Naxos and returned twice to Carnegie Hall in 2004 and again in 2013. In 2018, the BPO made their first international tour in three decades, to perform at Warsaw’s prestigious Beethoven Easter Festival where JoAnn made history as the first American woman to conduct an orchestra at the Festival. She and the BPO have been honored with numerous ASCAP awards, including the top award for Adventurous Programming. Other accomplishments include the establishment of the orchestra’s Beau Fleuve label, the founding of the JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition in partnership with WNED, and the national and international broadcast of concerts on NPR’s Performance Today, SymphonyCast, and the European Broadcasting Union. With a discography of 112 titles, JoAnn is a leading recording artist for Naxos. Her discs have won three GRAMMY® Awards and received eleven nominations. JoAnn is also the artistic advisor to the Hawaii Symphony and has held the positions of principal conductor of the Ulster Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Phoenix Symphony, music director of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and music director of the Denver Chamber Orchestra.
Chris J. Handley
Chris J. Handley has worked in theaters across the country for over 20 years as an actor, teacher, director, and producer. He currently serves as the associate artistic director of Buffalo’s Alleyway Theatre, where he founded the Theatre School of Western New York, and he will assume executive leadership this summer. He is also the vice president of the Theatre District Association, a 2019 Cullen Foundation Fellow, a member of the Actors’ Equity Liaison Committee, and faculty at SUNY Fredonia.
As an actor, Chris has performed locally on many of our region’s stages, including Alleyway Theatre, MusicalFare, Shakespeare in Delaware Park, 710 Main, Jewish Repertory Theatre, the Lancaster Opera House, and others. Just this season, he played roles as varied as Buddy (Elf the Musical), Bruce (Fun Home), Trinculo (The Tempest), and Matt (Talley’s Folly). He also recently staged the world premiere of the musical The King’s Legacy at Bristol Valley Theatre, and spent over two years as a Mississippi Riverboat entertainer.
As an independent teaching artist, he has developed various workshops on the craft, taught privately, and spent three years teaching acting and voice/speech to BFA and BA theater students. Chris holds an MFA in Acting from Indiana University and a BFA in Musical Theatre from SUNY Fredonia.
Born and raised in Buffalo, Edreys Wajed is an enthusiastic and inspiring walking enterprise of all things creative, from visual artist and hip hop musician to jewelry designer and entrepreneur. He boasts a broad and diverse resume of creative talents and achievements: he runs his own stationery boutique and art gallery with his equally talented wife Alexa, has toured as hip hop artist, and is a second generation jewelry designer.
Edreys is widely recognized for his work as one of the four artists to have contributed to The Freedom Wall, a mural commissioned by Albright-Knox Art Gallery located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street in Buffalo that depicts 28 civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Always evolving creatively, his latest works made a big impression in May and July of 2019 when he saw a sold-out solo show and exhibit at Argus Gallery. His paintings can now also be found in the Burchfield Penney Art Center and The Roswell Park Art Heals Gallery permanent art collections.