A Triumph For Deal, Barella, And A Loss For The Orchestra

November 12, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

The poster promised Beethoven, Mozart and Rossini.

But as if thatweren't enough, Saturday's Annapolis Symphony Orchestra concert at Maryland Hall also featured the emotional farewell of associate conductor Karen Deal and the appearance of an extraordinary young Brazilianoboist, Washington Barella, who dispatched the Mozart Oboe Concerto with a virtuosity that was downright irresistible.

In one sense, this concert was a look to the future. Karen Deal, a conducting competition winner who is fresh from the rarefied atmosphere of the Tanglewood Conducting Seminar, may one day accede to the directorship of a major orchestra. Barella is, without a doubt, goingto become some lucky conductor's principal oboist before too long.

But there was also the opportunity to look back on Karen Deal's six-year tenure with the ASO.

Although she was relegated to the background in her early years with the orchestra, the past two seasons established her as a significant player in the orchestra's quest for excellence.

Clearly, she is a smart, organized, hard-working and effective ambassador for her orchestra in both the arts community and thecommunity at large. Under her guidance, the orchestra functioned extremely well last season when it easily could have stumbled amid the stress of the conductor search.

By seeking out talented new players-- among them the first-rate concertmistress and an able principal horn -- Deal provided some hands-on leadership that not only preventedslippage but also achieved growth in a transitional year.

Her recent concerts suggest that the 34-year-old conductor has also grown inartistic stature. While there were few substantive opportunities to evaluate her podium prowess in her early years -- pops concerts and kiddie programs do not an accurate measure make -- my sense is that there is a new weight and solidity to her music-making.

The drama and emotional complexity she brought to Beethoven last Saturday night would not have been there two or three years ago.

When the late Herbert von Karajan commented that it took him 75 or 100 performances ofthe Eroica Symphony just to come to some sense of what the piece is truly about, his message was clear: Conducting Beethoven isn't for kids.

And frankly, I don't think Karen Deal is a kid anymore.

HerFifth was a direct, exciting yet dignified affair that showed a great deal of finesse, especially in the first and last movements.

Thefamous opening began in a rather reserved manner, with the conductorkeeping things under wraps so as not to tip her hand too soon. An ever-expanding emotional line was developed, with textures and dynamicsgrowing in intensity, leading inexorably to an explosive conclusion that was most satisfying.

The finale wasn't heart-on-the-sleeve Beethoven from start to finish, but by the final statement of the triumphal theme and the impetuous coda, all of the emotional flags had been unfurled.

The ASO responded admirably to Deal's urgings, save for an understaffed (only seven members) and largely unfamiliar cello section that rumbled rather perfunctorily through the opening of the third movement, after having derailed the beginning of the second by its collective inability to count to three.

The orchestra's wind players did especially well though, alas, the piccolo failed to add much spunk to the finale.

What a remarkable musician Washington Barella is. In his hands, the oboe -- "the ill wind that nobody blows good," as one wise guy described the instrument -- sounds like the most eloquent voice imaginable.

In the charming Mozart Oboe Concerto (K.314, the piece that does double duty as the D Major Flute Concerto),there wasn't a technical challenge he didn't thoroughly conquer.

Lengthy, lyrical phrases, endless roulades of 16th-notes, the songfulbeauty of the second movement and the gymnastics of his cadenzas allsounded absorbingly beautiful and dashingly executed.

If anyone in the audience was wondering what all the fuss is about in 1991, the bicentennial celebration of Mozart's death, this 27-year-old oboist provided the answer in spades. Seldom is the joy of Mozart communicated as thoroughly as it was in Barella's playing.

And it's particularly fitting to note that Barella came to Annapolis at the invitation of Karen Deal, who worked with him in Colorado with the National Repertory Orchestra and knew he'd be perfect here.

If the opening to the "Semiramide" Overture seemed a bit too severe and unsmiling, it was still exceptionally well played. I'm not sure this was an occasion for the rollicking good humor of Rossini to shine through anyway. Deal's original choice of Brahms' "Tragic Overture" might have proven a better choice.

I think this orchestra is going to miss the hands-on energy that Karen Deal provided during her tenure.

In fact, as Ilooked around the orchestra Saturday evening and saw several unfamiliar free-lancers sprinkled throughout the smaller-than-usual string sections, I wondered if maybe her absence wasn't already being felt.

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