Conductor Derby Predictions: It's Deal Or Schneider

May 21, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

Music lovers are truly among the world's great kibitzers. And as theAnnapolis Symphony Orchestra's search committee is on the verge of making its choice of a conductor to assume control of the orchestra for the 1991-1992 season, let's offer a bit of unsolicited advice before the members retire to their smoke-filled room to deliberate Thursday night.

From over 250 applicants, six candidates were offered up as successors to Peter Bay, who resigned to devote his time to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

David Alan Miller, the talented, extroverted assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, recently withdrew his name from consideration and will be assuming control of the Albany (N.Y.) Symphony in 1992. His withdrawal threw something of a curve ball at the searchcommittee, for he was highly thought of and was, perhaps, the odds-on favorite for the ASO post. His October concert, highlighted by a weighty, exciting "New World Symphony," scored impressively with all segments of the decision-making triad: the committee, the public and the ASO players.

With Miller out of the picture, attention shifts totwo of the five remaining candidates.

* Gary Schneider, the 34-year-old founder and conductor of the Hudson Chamber Symphony, impressed everyone with a terrific April concert featuring the Ravel Piano Concerto and Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony. Admittedly, I'm working from a Saturday rehearsal and a tape of the concert, but on the basis ofwhat I heard, the ASO nailed both of these difficult works dead on. Schneider is certainly a top candidate for the position. I would imagine that any serious questions about his ability with the baton were answered by his scorching Shostakovich Fifth and tangy Ravel concerto.

A composer and pianist, Schneider is a musician who makes thingshappen, the sort of fellow who's asked to a festival to conduct one of his own compositions and leaves two weeks later having been named the director of the festival. Knowing the acoustic failings of Maryland Hall, he personally installed some helpful acoustical panels within hours of his arrival in Annapolis. This should scream, not whisper,to the search committee.

Most of his conducting experience has been with his own New Jersey orchestra, and Schneider doesn't sport theglobe-trotting credentials of some of his rivals, which could work against him. However, if the board is on the lookout for commitment and fidelity, this is obviously a guy who sticks with what he starts.

In rehearsals, Schneider is no shrinking violet, which may have putoff some musicians seeking more collegiality from the podium. I say if ASO musicians feel a need for more companionship, they should get married or buy a dog.

Conclusion: There may be some residual questions, but the fact is, the orchestra played like crazy for this guy. He has to figure prominently going in.

* Karen Deal may have seemed the odd man out among the six candidates at the beginning of the season. Named the ASO's music adviser for the 1990-1991 campaign, she was assigned the last program of the year -- a "pops" concert, no less. With highly pedigreed assistants from Los Angeles, Seattle, Houstonand Washington among the finalists, it's safe to say her resume was not the most glittering in the drawer.

But long shots do come in, and Deal may be on the verge of pulling it off.

She impressed the ASO powers that be with the industry and smarts she's brought to her caretaker role this season. Administrative details were well-handled,and she would undoubtedly project an attractive community presence as head of the orchestra.

Most importantly, the orchestra sounded absolutely splendid under her baton. The players obviously respect andlike her. She also benefits from a bit of luck: Miller's withdrawal focused a great deal of attention on her just days before her successful concert.

Like Schneider, she is a hands-on builder who would rather create something special than run everywhere and conduct everything.

Conclusion: It may seem a tad unexotic to search worldwide and wind up with the girl next door, but exoticism doesn't build orchestras. The long shot is a long shot no longer, especially if there are lingering questions about Schneider's suitability. She's made herself an attractive option for the committee.

* Gisele Ben-Dor was aninsiders' pre-season favorite who failed to live up to expectations.Her concert was the biggest disappointment of the season, with an ill-prepared "Emperor" concerto of Beethoven and a so-so Brahms' First failing to impress.

The selection of Ben-Dor, who holds posts in Houston and Boston, would present a problem for the ASO board, which experienced first-hand the difficulties of employing a jet-set conductor as Peter Bay's career took off.

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