Ben-dor's International Roots Wind Through Her Music

September 03, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

Labor Day concerts by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra have proven to be a lovely way to end the summer in years past, and the 1991 installment proved no exception.

Sunday afternoon's concert in Down's Park in Pasadena was attended by hundreds of enthusiastic music loverswho enjoyed both the orchestra and the room service weather. The program was repeated yesterday at Quiet Waters park in Annapolis.

These concerts also provided the ASO a chance to introduce its new music director, Gisele Ben-Dor, to its Anne Arundel County audience.

Ben-Dor, the former associate conductor of the Houston Symphony who now directs the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra in Boston, was hired last spring after a yearlong search.

Born in Uruguay, her family emigrated to Israel when she was in her teens. She is a graduate of theYale School of Music and has established a thriving international career for herself with frequent appearances in South America, Eastern Europe, The Netherlands and Israel.

This weekend, she also became the first person in ASO history to conduct the orchestra while seven months pregnant.

Informal outdoor concerts, complete with heat, sun, wind, yelling kids, sound systems and the occasional skateboarder whizzing by, are not, shall we say,prime occasions for sustained critical analysis.

First, Sunday's audience was not cheated; with minimal rehearsal time, the ASO and its new conductor put together a sizable program that appealed to popular taste without pandering to it.

The orchestra seemed focused and quite involved in its work and, while the level of technical quality was variable, it was certainly acceptable most of the way.

Exotic ethnic fare would seem to be one of Ben-Dor's bailiwicks. The "Carmen" selections flaunted genuine Latin sex appeal, her

Strauss polka exuded some authentic Viennese bounce and her Borodin and Glinka exuded the three R's: racy, raunchy and Russian.

American exoticism was also well-handled. The suite from "Porgy and Bess" received idiomatically assured playing from all sections of the orchestra, especially from the solo clarinet and principal trombone. (How I do dislike the Bennett arrangement, which inexplicably reduces the high spots of this towering score to Muzak.)

Ben-Dor is also commended for programming the wonderful double trumpet concerto of Vivaldi. The screechy trumpet parts are difficult to playunder any circumstances, let alone Sunday's carnival atmosphere, butthis performance featuring ASO trumpeters Phil Snedecor and Mark Hendrikson was enjoyable. While their account was not the last word in accuracy or intonation, the brilliant glint of Vivaldi's writing came across nicely.

On the down side, Handel's "Royal Fireworks Music" was a complete fizzle and a frenetic third movement from Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique Symphony" started off chaotically and never quite recovered. Maybe a nice "Marche Slave" would have been a better idea.

One concluding note of clarification: "opera-comique" refers to Frenchoperas that contain some spoken dialogue. The term does not translate as "comic opera" as Sunday's well-intentioned announcer seemed to suggest. If you do go to see "Carmen" one day, don't plan on a lot of laughs.

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