Committee to choose new ASO conductor soon

Finalists: The eight-member panel will meet to weigh the qualities of six candidates.

Arundel Live

February 10, 2005|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When guest conductor Robert Moody and the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra brought the tumultuous final movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's 2nd Symphony to a close at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts a couple of weeks ago, they were concluding more than a symphonic masterwork and a successful concert.

The Annapolis debut of Moody, resident conductor of the Phoenix Symphony, completed the performance phase of the orchestra's two-season search for a music director to succeed Leslie B. Dunner, now conductor of the Chicago-based Joffrey Ballet.

Kathleen Eisenhart, head of the ASO's eight-member search committee, said the panel will be meeting soon to choose from among the six finalists, all of whom performed with the orchestra over the past two seasons.

`An exciting time'

"This is an exciting time for us and for the orchestra," said Eisenhart, whose group includes ASO players, members of the orchestra's administrative team and representatives from the board of trustees. "All of the finalists are still in the running, and we're going to choose thoughtfully, but without delay."

Time is of the essence, since the winner is slated to conduct the season-ending subscription concerts May 6 and 7, and the choice of repertoire will depend on the candidate selected.

The process of selecting a conductor is a complicated one since musical and nonmusical factors must be weighed.

At crunch time, availability also can become an issue. (Remember that Dunner and his predecessor, Gisele Ben-Dor, were second choices in ASO talent hunts, but wound up with the job.)

A hurler of thunderbolts from the podium might not be willing to devote time and energy to the orchestra's community outreach program, while the most articulate ambassador imaginable could prove to be nothing special when the stick hits the air.

This is not a cut-and-dried process, especially since no single contestant was so preemptively impressive that the other candidacies were rendered moot.

Of the six audition concerts, the best overall was the program of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Mexico's Arturo Marquez served up by Moody.

His Rachmaninoff 2nd had sweep and passion, if not all the Slavic emotion one might have wished for, and his accompaniment of cellist Zuill Bailey in Tchaikovsky's "Rococo" Variations was elegant and full of character.

From last fall

Jose Luis Novo, conductor of the Binghamton Philharmonic in New York, will have his supporters for the gutsy playing he coaxed out of the orchestra in his gypsy-inspired program last fall.

The Spaniard didn't help his cause by programming two lengthy, unfamiliar, highly fragmented works (Zoltan Kodaly's "Peacock" Variations and Manuel de Falla's ballet score "El Amor Brujo"), and he didn't seem the most deferential accompanist in the world.

But there can be no questioning his ability to stand on a podium and make something happen. He's the most intriguing of the lot.

A third defensible choice would be Emil deCou, assistant conductor of Washington's National Symphony.

There were wayward moments in his handling of the outer movements of Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony, but the interior interludes were on target, and deCou collaborated beautifully with soloist Jon Nakamatsu in the Piano Concerto of Robert Schumann.

Lara Webber, the sole female entrant in the conductor's derby, scored big with Sibelius and Bruch last winter, despite a rehearsal schedule decimated by snow.

Now based in California, Webber is a big talent who had a distinguished run as the associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony. She might not be at the top of the chart heading in, but she's experienced and gifted, plus stranger things have happened.

Arkansas and Boston

David Itkin of the Arkansas Symphony turned in a sterling rendition of Aram Khachaturian's Piano Concerto with a substitute pianist engaged at the 11th hour, but his Brahms 4th Symphony was a dispiriting affair, while Jonathan McPhee of the Boston Ballet presided over an ASO lacking in body and missing several regular players.

Not a lot of impact there. Undoubtedly they each bring good things to the table, but this outsider guesses that it would take a major meltdown at the top for either to wind up with the job.

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