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Maestro Deal takes a bow, moves on to Nashville post


You might figure that when a young woman moves to Nashville to make her musical dreams come true, they would be to follow in the footsteps of Loretta, Tammy, and Dolly.

But for Karen Lynne Deal, founding director of the Chesapeake Youth Symphony and former associate conductor of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, you'd better make that Bernstein, van Karajan, and Zinman.

Recently named the assistant conductor of the Nashville Symphony after a year-long search that attracted more than 100 candidates, Deal leaves Maryland this week to assume her new duties in Tennessee.

Founded in 1946, the Nashville Symphony is a highly regarded second-tier orchestra with a $3.5 million annual operating budget and a 52-week concert season. Soloists engaged for the coming year include such luminaries as Pinchas Zuckerman, Alicia de Larrocha, and Misha Dichter.

The Nashville post is a major step forward in Karen Deal's conducting career. "It is a terrific orchestra," says the 35-year-old maestro, who conducted works by Rossini, Shostakovich, and Richard Strauss at a live concert/audition in June to win the job. "Music is such a basic part of life there. Between country music and the enormous recording industry, the whole town revolves around music. And the Nashville Symphony has carved out a special niche for itself in the community," she says.

While in town to coach young musicians at the county's String Camp at Arlington Echo, Deal recently took time out from her rehearsal schedule to reflect on her years in Annapolis and look ahead to the artistic challenges that await with her new orchestra.

Clearly the assistant conductor of the Nashville Symphony does far more than fetch coffee and wait for the principal conductor to get sick. Unlike some orchestras, Nashville's does not engage an intermediate "resident conductor" to handle the choicer assignments. Every Nashville concert in the coming years will be conducted either by Kenneth Schermerhorn, the orchestra's music director, or his new assistant. For Ms. Deal that could mean as many as 100 concerts per season.

"I'll be conducting many of their run-outs, as well as outdoor summer concerts, family programs and other special events," she said.

Some of them will have that distinctive Nashville flavor. "At Christmas, the youngsters dress in their party clothes and tuxedos and we play a Pops concert for them in the Grand Ballroom of the Opryland Hotel. I'm told they are really cute."

The orchestra also maintains an extensive slate of chamber concerts in Nashville's community halls and churches, and it will be Deal's responsibility to program and conduct them. Orchestra management has intimated that engagements with the Nashville Opera and Ballet may also be in the offing.

A major orchestral assignment carries other advantages. "They have a very large staff there," she laughs. "Other people actually do things for you! I guess I don't have to set up chairs and stands any more. And besides," she says, "they pay benefits!"

Without question, Deal's six seasons in Annapolis comprise her formative years as a conductor of stature. She won her first major national conducting competition, founded the Sinfonia Concertante Chamber Orchestra still in residence at Baltimore's Loyola College, guided the Annapolis Symphony for a season as its music adviser only to face the bitter disappointment of being passed over for the permanent post, founded the Chesapeake Youth Symphony, and won acceptance to the vaunted conducting seminar at Tanglewood during her years here.

When asked to enumerate the high points of her Annapolis tenure, several things come to mind.

One is last spring's world premiere of composer Tom Benjamin's "Chesapeake Suite" by the CYSO. "We drew in people from all over the state for the very important cause of saving the Bay, and we performed great music at the same time. We were able to bring off a world premiere in only our second season. I'm proud of that."

She also recalls the Beethoven's Fifth of her valedictory ASO concert, a program she conducted just days after tendering her resignation from the orchestra. "There was so much happening that night," she says, "so much emotion both musically and personally. It's the videotape of that concert that got me in the door at Nashville, I'm sure."

And then there are the children's concerts she conducted for the ASO. "I feel I established a real relationship with those kids over those five years and I cherish that."

"You know," she continues, "people typecast some conductors as being good for kiddie concerts and not much else and that's ridiculous. I don't think it's secondary or insubstantial to have that appeal. Those kids are our future audience. Without them, we're sunk. An appeal to children is a consummate asset for a conductor."

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