ASO prospect for conductor to take podium

Debut: Lara Webber, vying for the Annapolis post, has chosen a pair of works known for evoking emotions for her first performances with the orchestra.

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Arundel Live

January 29, 2004|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Annapolis Symphony's search for a new conductor hits full throttle this weekend, with a gifted prospect who is genuinely interested in the post taking the Maryland Hall podium for her debut concerts with the ensemble.

Lara Webber, a product of the Oberlin Conservatory and the University of Southern California, is no stranger in these parts. Now in her fourth season as assistant conductor of Yuri Temirkanov's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Webber, 35, has led about 80 BSO events each year. She has been building her resume with guest appearances with other Baltimore-based groups, as well as the Lubbock (Texas) Symphony and the Chicago Sinfonietta.

"She does well by us in a whole range of repertoire," says Karen Swanson, general manager of the Baltimore Symphony. "Her ability to communicate is just fantastic, both musically and personally. The way she's related to our audiences has been great."

Webber will have ample opportunity to forge such artistic connections this weekend as she conducts a pair of works known for evoking emotions. Webber says she is especially excited to be having her first go at the Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius.

"I've always had a real thing for Sibelius," says Webber, who has conducted the Finnish master's First and Second symphonies before. "There's a unity of thought that keeps progressing through the symphony with his extraordinary development of melodic ideas. And all of it," she says, "is inspired by his almost-religious love for nature."

Webber says she also is looking forward to another encounter with Max Bruch's G minor Violin Concerto, a work she has conducted many times.

"Accompanying a concerto is my favorite thing to do as a conductor," she says, "and I love this piece. It shows off absolutely everything a violinist can do and, like Sibelius 5, it's one of those works where the composer plants a seed early and we all get to sit back and watch it grow. Hey, there's a reason why it's played so often."

Soloists in the Bruch will be Gareth Johnson, a 17-year-old Floridian whose first-place finish at the 2002 Sphinx Competition, a contest founded to showcase the talents of young African-American and Latino artists, had The New York Times comparing the young musician to violinists such as Maxim Vengerov and Joshua Bell.

"He's extremely charismatic," Webber says. "I'm looking forward to accompanying him."

Webber lives in Baltimore's Bolton Hill with her husband, University of Maryland, College Park geologist Julio Friedmann, and their 18-month-old daughter, Elsa. Comfortably ensconced at Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Webber says she is pleased to be working with the Annapolis orchestra. Her proximity to Annapolis would make juggling engagements feasible were she chosen to succeed Leslie Dunner as the ASO's conductor.

"I've had a lovely experience with everyone there so far, even with the ice and snow," she says, noting her two-hour drive back to Baltimore after Tuesday's weather-shortened rehearsal. "I know they're searching and I'm definitely interested."

The Annapolis Symphony performs tomorrow and Saturday at 8 p.m. at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis. For tickets and information, call 410-263-0907.

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