Annapolis maestros conduct lives in tune

Symphony: Gisele Ben-Dor and Leslie Dunner play musical chairs as their talents win wider recognition.

March 07, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The musical careers of Gisele Ben-Dor and Leslie Dunner continue to dovetail in interesting ways.

It was the charismatic Dunner who was hired to replace Ben-Dor after she ended her six-year tenure as conductor of the Annapolis Symphony in 1997 and went on to assume the directorship of the Santa Barbara Symphony.

Both Ben-Dor and Dunner have been named "Cover Conductors" by the New York Philharmonic, which means they have been deemed talented enough to lead that venerable ensemble at a moment's notice should a previously scheduled maestro be unable to appear.

Now comes the announcement that both Ben-Dor and Dunner are among the dozen finalists chosen for the soon-to-be-vacant podium of the Hartford Symphony.

Should he be hired, Dunner's conducting schedule in Hartford would not mean the end of his tenure with the Annapolis Symphony, which has made impressive strides under his two years of leadership. "The jobs," says the 44-year-old conductor, "could actually co-exist quite nicely."

The Hartford Symphony, now in its 56th season, has a budget of about $4.3 million, nearly 10,000 subscribers and 3,000 donors. In contrast, the Annapolis Symphony's budget last year was less than $600,000. A respected institution in orchestral circles, Hartford came of age artistically back in the 1950s and '60s with the appointments of conductors Fritz Mahler, son of the great composer, and Arthur Winograd, a founding member of the Juilliard String Quartet.

For the past 15 seasons, the orchestra has been led by Michael Lankester, a British conductor who is leaving at the end of thisseason to pursue career opportunities in Europe. During his lengthy tenure, the orchestra has expanded its offerings into an annual concert schedule of more than 60 performances presented in a variety of series and formats.

Hartford is engaged in a two-year search, with four of the candidates guest-conducting the orchestra this season, and the other eight in 2000-2001. The expectation is that the choice will be made at the conclusion of the second season in the spring of 2001.

Gisele Ben-Dor, who distinguished herself in Annapolis as a fine accompanist from the podium and as a convincing exponent of ethnically charged musical fare from Eastern Europe and her native South America, will appear in Hartford later this spring. She will conduct Shostakovich's 1st Symphony, the Brahms Violin Concerto with wunderkind fiddler Sarah Chang as soloist, and the Ballet Suite from Alberto Ginastera's "Estancia," the colorful Latin score she has already recorded to great effect with the London Symphony.

In February, Dunner will head to New England to conduct the Hartford Symphony in Samuel Barber's 2nd Essay for Orchestra, the bristling 10th Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich and the Glazunov Violin Concerto with Midori, yet another young superstar violinist, doing the solo honors.

Competition for the Hartford position will be stiff indeed, according to Joan Hedman, the orchestra's executive assistant. "We are thrilled with the quality of the people we have coming in," she says. "This is a very exciting time for our orchestra."

Several other notable up-and-coming conductors are on Hartford's list. Among the candidates are Martin Fischer-Dieskau, son of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the incomparable baritone; Andre Raphael Smith, assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra; flutist-conductor Ransom Wilson, founder and conductor of the Soloisti New York Orchestra; Derrick Inouye, who has served with distinction as an assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera; and Stephen Smith, assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and a contender for the Annapolis Symphony post that Dunner won in 1998.

"It's going to be a very interesting process," says Dunner, who was introduced to the Hartford Symphony a year ago, when he joined them for a program of Duke Ellington favorites. "Hartford is a nice town, it's a very good orchestra, and there is a highly competitive group of candidates. I'm looking forward to it."

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