Ben-dor Touches Down Between International Gigs

Aso's Frequent Flierconducts Here In Oct.

July 19, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

These are eventful times in the life of Gisele Ben-Dor, the Israeli conductor who was recently named music director of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

In the past five months, she has been appointed totwo conducting posts and has resigned from another.

At her home in Houston, she is busily packing up scores, records,tapes, compact discs and her Steinway piano in preparation for a move to New Jersey with her engineer husband, Eli, and their 8-year-old son, Roy.

And when she assumes the podium for ASO's season-opener this October, she'll be eight months pregnant with her second child.

"I'll be in funny shape for my concert," she said, laughing. "But I've been through this before. When I conducted 'The Rite of Spring' in my debut concert with the Israel Philharmonic, I was nine months' pregnant with my son."

She chuckled while remembering that the Stravinsky masterwork was temporarily renamed "The Rite of Offspring" bysome of her Tel Aviv supporters.

Pregnancy notwithstanding, Ben-Dor's international career remains at full throttle. Just back from a series of concerts with the Jerusalem Symphony -- the only major Israeli ensemble she'd not conducted to this point -- she spent three days in Annapolis this week working on ASO business before flying back to Houston to continue packing.

"I've been doing it a little at a time," she said. "It's an unbelievable job."

She's going to Czechoslovakia July 31 for an on-the-spot study of such Czech composers as Martinu, Suk and Janacek. "This is a wonderful opportunity to look at music that is new to me," she said. "A conductor must set aside time to learn new repertoire."

Her season as conductor of Boston's Pro Arte Orchestra, a chamber ensemble in residence at Harvard University, begins in mid-September.

Then it's on to Annapolis for Glinka, Brahms and Mendelssohn on Oct. 4 and 5.

Baby permitting, there willbe a Sibelius 2nd Symphony and Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 withthe Arnheim Philharmonic of the Netherlands before she returns to Israel for the birth of her child.

Such are the exigencies of an international conducting career.

"I do get caught in some unbelievable situations, what with juggling family, airports and orchestras," she said. "But the rewards are wonderful."

But something had to go, and last month, Ben-Dor resigned her staff position as associate conductor of the Houston Symphony.

"It wasn't easy," she admitted. "Houston is a major orchestra, and I gave up lots of concerts and, frankly, lots of money. In some respects, it was a sacrifice."

But she has no serious regrets. "There are no real artistic challenges left for me there," she said. "It's tough to be a staff conductor or a guest. It isn't really your orchestra, so you can't be too insistent about matters of intonation and ensemble.

"The players have the attitude that, 'The important things we'll do with our real conductor so let's just get it over with.' Sometimes, there just isn't much you can do about it. You can be much more demanding with your own orchestra.

"Besides," she said, laughing, "I was supposed to do 15 outdoor concerts in nine days in Houston this summer where it's 100 degrees allthe time. In my condition, that's just what I needed.

"Two jobs is a lot," she said. "Three jobs is an awful lot."

Her resignation from Houston and subsequent relocation to the East Coast thrilled theASO management: More time and less distance will allow Ben-Dor a hands-on approach.

"Now, I can drive down easily from New Jersey, even bringing the baby and baby-sitter with me. It should be much easierto fulfill my responsibilities here," Ben-Dor said.

Ben-Dor articulates her vision of the ASO under her leadership with clarity and enthusiasm. While she seems pleased with what she finds here, in the long run she would like to establish a core orchestra of some 35 to 40 players with whom she could meet for rehearsals beyond the five annual subscription concerts.

"Working with a group like this with those instrumentalists who are always available to us for concerts would produce real gains for the orchestra. Perhaps we could start studyingwhat this might involve," she said.

Her views on repertoire? "I don't want to come in and just start picking everything I've always wanted to do. It's also important to select works that will make the orchestra sound well. At the same time, I want the audience to hear some things that are new to them and to the players."

She lists the second and third symphonies of Tchaikovsky, the radiant Dvorak 6th Symphony and even the Mahler 4th Symphony as possibilities for the future. And speaking of ambitious hopes, she mentions the massive "Resurrection" Symphony (No. 2) of Mahler as a large-scale work she'd like tobring to Maryland Hall one day.

"We'd have to construct an entireseason around it," she said. "But it can't all be done at the same time. I can't come in here and impose everything. It has to be done inan organic way."

Ben-Dor says she is thrilled to have been entrusted with her own orchestra with which she can explore the symphonic repertoire.

"After four years as a staff conductor," she concluded,"I deserve a break. At the ASO, I have the opportunity to make musictogether with the musicians. We won't ever be performing a piece just to 'get through it.' "

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