The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra's choice Friday of Leslie Dunner as music director over the other 278 candidates who applied to succeed Gisele Ben-Dor made perfect sense.
Dunner, resident conductor of the Detroit Symphony for the past 10 seasons and music director of Canada's Symphony of Nova Scotia for the past two, was impressive at his Maryland Hall appearances in February.
Faced with the sudden withdrawal of his original soloist, he changed the concert program and went on to provide exemplary support in unfamiliar repertoire for replacement soprano Kishna Davis, who sang some of the most striking Verdi and Puccini arias heard at Maryland Hall in a long time.
An energetic, fully credible account of Rimsky Korsakov's technicolored "Scheherazade" clinched the deal on Dunner's podium competency.
No conductor is loved by all, but Dunner, a native of New York City who earned his doctorate at the Cincinnati Conservatory, quickly struck responsive chords with ASO players, many of whom are genuinely pleased at his selection.
"He was my first choice from the beginning," said violinist Carol Patterson of Pasadena, who will work closely with the new conductor as the ASO's librarian. "His rehearsals were fast-paced, and I felt I could learn from him. His personality seemed very warm and human."
"He didn't just conduct with his hands, but with his glances as well," said double-bassist Fred Geil. "He is a very expressive musician."
ASO concertmaster Philip Spletzer expressed excitement at the prospect of working with a musician of Dunner's talent. "This hiring," Spletzer said, "provides a great opportunity for the orchestra and the community to renew a commitment to symphonic music."
The presence of a gifted maestro dedicated to educational programs and community outreach clearly excites the orchestra and the community-at-large.
"His vision to bring classical music to the broadest spectrum of the community is one that I embrace wholeheartedly," said Jane Schorsch, the ASO's executive director.
Carol Parham, the Anne Arundel County superintendent of schools, was taken with the rapport Dunner established with his players and by his graceful style on the podium.
"And when I talked to him after the concert, he expressed his interest in music education and in getting young people involved in music," Parham recalled. "We already have many fine programs in place with the orchestra, and I think it's wonderful that we're going to have a conductor who's so committed to working with our students."
The decision to hire Dunner also was brought about by reactions to the three other finalists who conducted the orchestra this season.
Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the 29-year-old Peruvian who conducted Schumann and Prokofieff so impressively last month looked to have the inside track for a time, and was offered the job first, ASO board President Gregory Stiverson told The Sun Thursday.
But it became apparent quickly that Harth-Bedoya was less than willing to commit himself fully to the Annapolis orchestra's future, ASO sources said. The young South American, who is about to be married and is finishing his second season with the Eugene (Ore.) Symphony, seemed skittish about going bi-coastal at this point in his career.
The ASO withdrew its offer and made signing Dunner its priority. Not only had he conducted the most exciting concert of the season, he could offer things the remaining two finalists seemed to lack; true individuality on the podium and a genuine rapport with the orchestra.
David Effron of the Eastman School of Music coaxed a dandy Rachmaninoff 2nd Symphony out of the orchestra last November, but alienated many players with a gruff, professorial demeanor.
"I put myself in the 'ABE' category on my ratings," one musician said. "'Anybody But Effron.'"
Management liked him, everyone respected him musically, but such reactions from the ranks doomed Effron's prospects.
The candidacy of Steven Smith, assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra was a nonstarter. Smith offended no one with his nimble Beethoven, Shostakovich and Strauss last fall, but he was eclipsed quickly by the other candidates.
The Dunner era at Maryland Hall will begin slowly. The new maestro will not conduct this season's final subscription concerts on May 1 and 2. Joel Revzen, former conductor of Prince William (Va.) Symphony will be on the podium for those concerts.
Instead, Dunner will be introduced to the community at a pair of free outdoor concerts to be held at Downs Park in Pasadena and Quiet Waters Park, Annapolis, on Labor Day weekend.
Dunner will not be available for all five concert weekends next season. Administrators at Nova Scotia and Detroit, as well as Dunner's agents, are juggling schedules now. But Schorsch said she hopes the new maestro will be able to do most of the conducting here in 1998-1999.
The ASO, which has been so loaded with one-time-only players this season that members laughingly call it the "Annapolis Substitute Orchestra," desperately needs the stability that only a regular conductor can provide.
The hope at ASO headquarters is that Dunner will be worth the wait; that he'll provide that stabilizing presence and create, in the words of conductor Sir John Barbirolli, "a working atmosphere where players play beyond the call of duty."
Pub Date: 4/05/98