Doing their best to ignore the strains of "O Holy Night" floating down from the Annapolis Chorale's rehearsal room on the third floor of Maryland Hall, the Annapolis Symphony players and their associate conductor, Karen Deal, are busily at work on Beethoven's monumental 5th Symphony. It is a painstaking process.
"Subdivide," she tells the strings for the third or fourth time. "Don't rush the resolution."
"Nope, it's got to be together," she admonishes the bassoon and French horns.
"It needs to be much more mysterious here," she says of the cello entrance to the third movement. "I'd like for the whole character to change."
On the surface, this is a rehearsal like anyother, but Beethoven is never on the surface, especially in this extraordinary symphony, where every bar quivers with raw emotional energy.
And on this night, life is imitating art, for this is an emotionally charged time in the life of Karen Deal. With this weekend's concerts, which will feature the music of Rossini and Mozart along with Beethoven, the 34-year-old conductor is saying goodbye to the orchestra she has done so much to build and the audience she has come to know so well in her six-year association with the ASO.
"This was a very difficult decision for me," she says with obvious emotion, "but it's time to move on."
Difficult indeed, for Deal came of age as a conductor during her tenure with the ASO. In the early years, her duties were narrowly defined, but in recent seasons she has assumed a role of considerable stature. This trend culminated in her appointment as the orchestra's resident conductor and artistic adviser during the 1990-1991 season, which was given over to guest conductors as the orchestra searched for a new music director.
While Deal's inclusion among the final six aspirants may have been a pro forma gesture at theoutset, she spent the year adding numerous players to the ASO ranks,working individually with her musicians, and handling administrativetasks with an effectiveness that made her a genuine candidate for the post.
Her career began to take off in other ways during her Annapolis years. Deal won the position of assistant conductor of the National Repertory Orchestra in Keystone, Colo., for two summers and founded both the Sinfonia
Concertante Chamber Orchestra in residence at Loyola College and Annapolis' Chesapeake Youth Symphony.
This summer, she captured a slot in the Tanglewood Conducting Seminar, whereshe studied under Gustav Meier, Seiji Ozawa, Simon Rattle and Leon Fleisher.
With her career moving forward, she looks back on her Annapolis experiences with fondness.
"It's been very exciting for me to have been part of this organization during its past few years of growth and transition," she says. "The highlight for me has been working closely with individuals involved and with the orchestra as a whole. I wish them well in the future."
Her Annapolis audiences also found a place in her heart. "I have always been grateful for the energetic, supportive response I've gotten from our audiences over the years," she says. "I will miss that contact."
She will miss her younger listeners as well.
"At the children's concerts, I've developed a real rapport with the kids, and I'm going to miss that friendship awhole lot. That last concert back in October was a very sad one for me," she says.
But people don't stand still in conducting circles,and there is already talk of possible new directions. Deal is a finalist for the directorship of the Bremerton Symphony in Washington state, and she was interviewed at Tanglewood by Christoph von Dohnanyi as a prospective assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. "Now that would be exciting," she says with a big smile. "I've never heardan orchestra sound as good as they do." (Not surprising. Neither hasanyone else -- on this continent, anyway.)
Deal is also thrilled to be conducting this particular program at her valedictory concert. Of oboist Washington Barella, who will play the Mozart Oboe Concerto,she says, "He is a phenomenal player and it will be a pleasure to work with him. I engaged him to come and I'm so glad I got to keep him."
And the Beethoven Fifth is special.
"Beethoven transforms andmanipulates that famous motive in the most emotional ways so that, by the last movement, those four notes that began on the darker side end up transformed into a glorious, triumphant motive of hope," she says. "This piece encapsulates my life, my career and, hopefully, my future. I'm currently somewhere between the end of the first movement and that blazing conclusion. I have confidence I'll make it to the last."