Aso Derby Entry Is Super-charged Conductor Of Ideas Californian Auditions In Concert Tomorrow

October 05, 1990|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

The exigencies of career advancement, orchestral economics and the cultivation of community support demand that the modern American conductor think beyond simply playing music.

And from David Alan Miller, the first entrant in the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra's 1990-91 conducting derby, creative promotional ideas burst forth with excitement and a reasoned clarity that carries the listener along and inspires a "Sure, why not!" response.

As part of his audition, the 29-year-old associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic will conduct the ASO at 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis.

"I adore Haydn," he enthuses. "Perhaps we could turn Annapolis into the world's Haydn capital for a few days. The orchestra could perform a program of Haydn symphonies. Perhaps area musicologists could give some lectures, and one of the local choral groups schedule one of the great Haydn oratorios. Maybe even (Naval Academy music director) Dr. (Barry) Talley could present one of his lecture demonstrations on the music performed in Annapolis during Haydn's day."

Or, there's the "adopt a composer" idea that Miller tried successfully with the New York Youth Symphony he conducted for six years.

"One reason that people don't much like contemporary music", he explains, "is that they simply don't know the composer. But many young composers today write melodic, exciting, lovely music that I'm sure an Annapolis audience would love, especially if they got to know the composer first. So we might bring the composer to town, have him or her give a series of talks and have the community get to know the music that the ASO could then perform. It would be wonderful."

Novelty aside, such activities are almost essential for orchestras on the move. "Visibility, notoriety and funding do not come to orchestras that stand still," he asserts.

The ASO's selection committee will be assessing more than this candidate's entrepreneurial imagination. Miller is a respected young conductor whose career has progressed steadily in recent years.

A Californian who studied at Berkeley and came east to attend the Juilliard School, the New York Youth Symphony became one of the country's pre-eminent young people's orchestras under his tutelage.

At the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra's summer institute, an impressed Andre Previn, the LAPO's conductor, invited Miller to become his assistant. Recently promoted to associate status, he is in his fourth season with the Philharmonic.

Like any young conductor, what he wants most is his own orchestra. For him, Annapolis would do nicely. He relishes the prospect of moving east.

"My wife is a lawyer who wants to work in government," he laughs. "What better place to come to?"

He is also excited by the prospect of working in proximity to the American conductor he most admires, David Zinman of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

"David is one of my heroes," he says. "He is a gifted, incredibly solid musician who has committed himself to making Baltimore the next great American orchestra -- which is exactly what he's doing. I'd be thrilled to work with him to enrich the musical life of Maryland in whatever way I can."

His international conducting hero, by the way, is Carlos Kleiber, the enigmatic German conductor whose recent "Der Rosenkavalier" at the Met in New York absolutely bowled him over. "Kleiber starts out at a level that almost no one else can get to and proceeds upward from there," he says.

"What a musician!"

Miller also exudes enthusiasm for the program he'll be conducting tomorrow with the ASO.

Dvorak's much loved "New World Symphony" is the major work on the program. "This central European, Brahmsian composer comes to America, studies our folk music and turns out a masterpiece that is both uniquely Czech and uniquely American at the same time," Miller says.

"I was just listening to a recording of Jessye Norman singing spirituals, and I was struck by how much of that harmony finds its way into the 'New World.' "

He also imparts an interesting musicology insight: "The famous English horn melody in the second movement was originally scored for flute and clarinet," he says, "but Dvorak changed it, because the English horn most closely matched the vocal color of the singer who came to perform spirituals for him. No wonder the solo sings so beautifully."

The young maestro is also happy for the chance to show off the ASO wind players in Borodin's exotic "Polovtsian Dances," and to team up with the Annapolis Brass Quintet in Sprenkle's "Quaker Bottom" and "Baroque Fanfares," works which jive nicely with the "New World."

In this competitive situation, with five talented contestants following Miller to the podium later this season, this engaging young musician is obviously hoping to "wow" the orchestra board, its selection committee and the Annapolis audience.

Be he is clear about who he wants to impress the most. "The musicians must feel a conductor's commitment and really want to play for me," he says thoughtfully. "That's where all great performances really come from."

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