In Hege's forest, someone heard

Music: When the BSO's assistant director led a brilliant concert in Japan, he had no idea how profoundly it would alter his career.

April 22, 1999|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Daniel Hege believes in being prepared, keeps a cool head and has a knack for surmounting obstacles.

The evening before the final day of the Baltimore Symphony's tour of Japan 18 months ago, music director David Zinman was stricken by a kidney stone and had to be flown home. But what prevented Zinman from conducting the final concert of the tour in Tokyo's Suntory Hall turned into a triumph for Hege, the orchestra's then 32-year-old assistant conductor.

Without so much as a chance to rehearse the program, Hege went on to lead a brilliant concert. He concluded with a chandelier-shaking performance of Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique" that brought the Suntory audience, Japan's most sophisticated and knowledgeable, to its feet in the warmest ovation the BSO received in its three weeks of concerts.

Afterward, basking in congratulations and expressions of gratitude from the BSO's players and staff, Hege was asked if the performance could make a difference in his career.

"I doubt it," Hege said at the time. "We're halfway around the world. If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?"

Someone did.

A little over a week ago, Hege, who conducts the BSO in a program of 18th-century music this weekend, was named music director of the Syracuse (N.Y.) Symphony.

It's a terrific opportunity for a young conductor. Syracuse is an important regional-sized orchestra, with a budget of about $4.5 million, a 38-week playing season and a history of naming music directors -- such as Christopher Keene, Kazuyoshi Akiyama and Frederick Prausnitz -- who have gone on to distinguished careers.

One could say that the 33-year-old Hege was lucky. Of the seven finalists for the job, he was the youngest, the least experienced and the least well-known. Not only was Hege the dark horse in the race, he was also the only candidate whose program did not end with a splashy work. Instead, he had to conduct Schumann's dark and quirky Symphony No. 2, a work that -- even when played competently -- often puts audiences and players to sleep.

"Dan's the one who got what I'd call a dog of a program," says the Syracuse Symphony's tuba player, Ed Diefes. "But he didn't feel that way about it at all."

"With that program and against the competition I faced, I didn't think I had a chance [for the job]," Hege says. "But I just wanted to go in, have good concerts and let the players and the audiences draw their own conclusions."

But the Schumann Symphony No. 2 turned out to be a success -- with the players, with the audiences and with David Abrams, the music critic of the Syracuse Post-Standard & Herald Journal.

"He got the worst of it [in terms of programming] and yet he made the best of it," Abrams says. "He just rolled up his sleeves and went to work. That he made me enjoy a work I don't even like is what impressed me so much."

Good luck usually has nothing to do with being lucky. It's more often the case that a state of readiness enables one to take advantage of situations that, without preparation, might prove disastrous.

Besides, you can never tell who's in the forest listening.

At the beginning of the BSO's fall '97 tour of Japan, Hege was merely one of 35 candidates, whittled down from 225 applications, for the position of Syracuse's music director. When the tour ended three weeks later with Hege's cataclysmic "Symphonie Fantastique," Hege had risen to the top of the list.

Because BSO principal tuba player David Fedderly had been unable to go on the tour, he had been replaced by the Syracuse Symphony's Ed Diefes, one of the members of the orchestra's search committee in its efforts to find a new music director.

"I had heard a lot of wonderful things about Dan as a person and a musician throughout the tour," Diefes says. "Spending three weeks with him on tour confirmed the first of those things; what happened that last night in Tokyo confirmed the second. All the BSO players were impressed by what he did -- and so was I."

But if the finale of the Japanese tour made Hege the favorite, and if last February's Schumann Second sealed things, it was also Hege's personal qualities that impressed Syracuse's musicians, board members and audiences.

"During the rehearsals and the first concert, we felt secure in his hands," says Syracuse Symphony flutist Karen Ursin, also a member of the orchestra's search committee. "At lunch afterward, we grilled him -- about how he would approach auditions, about his vision for expanding audiences and about his commitment to Syracuse. He handles difficult questions very well and he looks you straight in the eye. He's got the dignified, strong but quiet leadership that will make him fit in beautifully here."

Next season, Hege's commitments in Baltimore will restrict him to only six weeks of concerts in Syracuse. But in the 2000-2001 season, his 18 weeks of concerts will make it necessary for him to move to Syracuse with his wife, Katrina, and his daughter, Arianna.

He will be missed. Hege's intelligence, musical talent, integrity, decency and warmth have won him not only considerable respect and admiration, but also enormous affection.

"People have been so supportive of me here, and I'll always have a strong connection to Baltimore," Hege says. "But I'm enthusiastic and optimistic about the future in Syracuse."

Conductor

What: Daniel Hege conducts the Baltimore Symphony in works by Handel, Bach, Telemann and Haydn

When: Tomorrow at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

Tickets: $21-$55

Call: 410-783-8000

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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