Narrowing the ASO's search for a conductor

Orchestra: A committee will use a flexible selection process to find a maestro.

December 26, 2003|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Flexibility in matters of phrasing, tempo and stylistic nuance is a hallmark of orchestral conducting at its finest.

The Annapolis Symphony has decided that flexibility will be a key component in its search for a conductor to replace Leslie B. Dunner, the charismatic music director whose five years with the ASO ended last season with a decision by the orchestra's board of trustees not to renew his contract.

Dunner and his predecessor, the Uruguayan-born Gisele Ben-Dor, were products of a cut-and-dried selection process. The orchestra, which had plenty of warning about the vacancy in each case, set aside a subscription season to make its selection, soliciting applicants, evaluating five or six finalists working with the orchestra, then picking the one they liked best once the season was over.

This time around, things might work a little differently.

"The most important thing for us is to find the right candidate to match the skills we need at this stage of our development," says Kathleen Eisenhart of Annapolis, who has chaired the orchestra's nine-member search committee since it was formed in February.

"If we find the right person at any point, the search could be suspended because we don't want to be so committed to a process that we miss out on someone we really want.

"But if we don't find that special person, the search could be expanded, maybe even to include someone not even on our list of official candidates."

About 200 application packets have arrived at ASO headquarters at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

Eisenhart reports that the finishing touches are being applied to the 2004-2005 concert season, which will be headlined by five visiting maestros competing to permanently conduct the orchestra.

Those names will be announced next month.

The orchestra will not confirm which of the conductors booked for the season are considered candidates for the post.

Three of this season's visitors would seem unlikely aspirants for the position.

Daniel Hege, whose September ASO concerts were wiped out by Tropical Storm Isabel, is the conductor of the Syracuse Symphony, an orchestra with a 38-week performance season and an annual operating budget of $5.5 million.

Those figures dwarf the ASO's five weeks of subscription concerts and budget of about $750,000.

David Lockington, who brings Shostakovich and Beethoven to Annapolis in May, works with Michigan's Grand Rapids Symphony with its $6.9 million budget and 80 ticketed concerts per season.

Rossen Milanov - the assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra who was so impressive at Maryland Hall last month in a program of Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff and Elgar - was recently named chief conductor of the Bulgarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in his hometown of Sofia, the country's capital.

ASO aficionados might want to be particularly attentive to the Annapolis debuts of Baltimore Symphony assistant conductor Lara Webber, who conducts Dvorak, Bruch and Sibelius on Jan. 30 and 31, and Emil DeCou, assistant conductor of Washington's National Symphony, whose concerts March 26 and 27 include works by Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Samuel Barber.

Both are young, gifted, in the area and on their way up.

Whoever makes it to the Maryland Hall podium will find an excellent situation to work in, Eisenhart says.

"We pay our bills, we have an endowment, we provide good visibility here on the East Coast and we're a very good regional orchestra," she says.

"It's an attractive position."

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