Aso's Conductor A Maestro On The Move

Talented Ben-dor Is Heavily Booked

June 14, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

With the hiring of Gisele Ben-Dor as the new conductor of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, the ASO's 1991-1992 concert season has been thrown into a state of flux.

The orchestra's search committee knew that hiring a conductor in June for a concert season beginning just four months later could create logistical problems.

With Ben-Dor, the ASO has engaged a conductor on the move, metaphorically and physically. She has obligations with the Houston Symphony, where she serves as resident conductor, and with Boston's Pro ArteOrchestra, which she will begin conducting this fall.

This comingseason, Ben-Dor also will serve as guest conductor with the Israel Philharmonic, the Jerusalem Symphony, the Arnheim Philharmonic of the Netherlands and a few American orchestras to boot.

The content of the ASO's 1991-1992 season has changed dramatically in the past week.Program modifications have rendered the orchestra's previously circulated brochure all but obsolete. Soloists and the sequence of concerts have also been switched.

The new conductor will be on hand for only three of the coming season's six concerts. She will conduct the season-opening performances, programs that will feature the Brahms Violin Concerto with Baltimore Symphony concertmaster Herbert Greenberg as soloist.

She will conduct a February 1992 concert featuring ASOconcertmistress Brynn Albanese in "Winter" from Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." She also will be on the podium for the all-French programs in March. The amended Gallic fare includes Cesar Franck's "Symphonic Variations" and Faure's "Ballade for Piano and Orchestra," with pianist Tomer Lev as soloist.

Karen Deal, this past season's resident conductor, will maintain an affiliation with the orchestra, with her status upgraded to associate conductor. She will conduct a pair of November subscription concerts and handle the Children's Concert on Oct.27. A heroes and villains theme is planned.

To complete the refurbishing, Iuval Zaliuk, a Ukrainian maestro, has been engaged to guest-conduct an amended program of Bernstein, Copland and the Second Symphony of Johannes Brahms at the April concerts.

The ASO "powers that be" are obviously convinced that their new conductor is of sufficient stature and quality to merit this involved reshuffling.

And shecertainly has much to recommend her. Of the final candidates for theASO post, Ben-Dor was far and away the most experienced internationally. By all accounts, she is highly thought of in Houston and the ASOmusicians were crazy about her, supporting her candidacy by a 3-1 margin in their evaluations, which were read carefully by the search committee.

She is outgoing and energetic, and the committee members found her enthusiasm for music both infectious and inspiring.

Annapolis area audiences will not get to evaluate her approach to programming until the 1992-1993 season (next season's slate was largely planned by Karen Deal). But after years of assistantships, kiddie concerts, chamber ensembles and guest-conducting spots, Ben-Dor must be positively giddy at the prospect of calling her own shots in the mainstream symphonic repertoire.

In sum, the ASO has engaged an attractive, experienced conductor who certainly seems to be on her way up in the music world.

Still, the choice was surprising to me. Regular readers might recall that I was less-than-taken with Ben-Dor's ASO debut. But I readily acknowledge that off-nights are a fact of life in that arts and that she could conceivably do more with Beethoven and Brahms than I felt she did. I look forward to sharing and appraising her artistry over a sustained period of time.

But most of my surprise comes from my assumption that the symphony's preference was for a hands-on leader who would devote substantial periods of time to becomingintimately involved in all phases of the orchestra's artistic, administrative and financial affairs. The final jet-setting years of PeterBay's tenure were not easy ones for the ASO, and Ben-Dor's career seems every bit as hustly-bustly as Bay's -- if not more so.

The press release that announced Ben-Dor's hiring also makes my antennae twitch just a bit. Her "prestige" as a conductor is stressed. And she islauded as one who could "represent our orchestra in the arts arena."

With all due respect, the ASO needs "representation in the arts arena" the way Ritchie Highway needs another mall.

The Annapolis Symphony is an orchestra that usually plays pretty well and sometimes plays exceptionally well. But orchestras are organic entities that must grow in order to survive. This organization needs committed, sustained, focused, personal attention from a talented musician far more than it needs an ambassador, no matter how glamorous the envoy.

Aggressive auditioning, rigorous rehearsing, comprehensive planning and effective fund-raising take gobs of time and tend to get a conductor'shands dirty when done properly. But this is where a good orchestra comes from, and there are no shortcuts.

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