French horn players are notorious for being the "problem children" of the orchestra. And why not? With all the guff they suffer at the hands of the unwieldy, uncooperative instrument they play, why should they brook additional nonsense from a colleague or even a world-renowned maestro?
Few instruments speak with the mellow eloquence of the French horn, but structurally it is an instrument only a plumber could love: a complex ventilation system of valves, tubes, pipes, crooks and slides that somehow turns a column of air into the sublime slow movement of Tchaikovsky's "Fifth Symphony."
But while accomplished horn-playing is a daunting task requiring both the lyrical soul of a poet and the nerves of a cat burglar, practitioners of the art wouldn't want to be doing anything else with their lives.
"When I first saw the instrument, it looked to me like a big bowl of spaghetti with all those coils," recalls William Ver Meulen, principal French horn of the Houston Symphony, who will be soloing with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra this weekend. "But what I sensed immediately -- even as a 6-year-old -- was its distinctive sound. No other instrument so closely approximates the human voice. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to play it someday."
And play it he has.
One of America's most gifted horn players, with orchestral stints in Chicago, St. Paul, Honolulu, Columbus, Kansas City and Hamburg, Germany, to his credit, Mr. Ver Meulen will solo in concertos by Mozart and Richard Strauss. He also will play his own arrangement of Rossini's aria, "Una voce poco fa," from "The Barber of Seville."
ASO conductor Gisele Ben-Dor has also programmed Rossini's Overture to "La Scala di Seta" and Beethoven's monumental "Eroica" symphony for this inaugural concert of the season.
This concert represents a happy reunion for conductor and soloist, since Ms. Ben-Dor came to Annapolis from Houston, where she served as associate conductor for Mr. Ver Meulen's orchestra.
"I performed the Strauss with Gisele in Houston," he said, "and it's great fun to be working with her again here in Annapolis. I'm looking forward to the concerts.
"Coming to Annapolis is a nice respite from some of the cut-throat intensity you find in the major orchestras on occasion," he said. "These players are here for the right reason: out of a love for what they're doing."
In the end, that's the attitude that keeps William Ver Meulen loose and upbeat, despite the nerve-racking stress his instrument can induce.
"If I miss a note, nobody dies," he said, chuckling.
"It's not brain surgery. I think positively about why I'm playing the instrument," he said. "The love of music is the main thing, and I'm committed to making sure I keep doing it for the right reason. I couldn't live with myself if I were doing this for any reason other than the love of it."
The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra opens its 32nd season at 8 p.m. today and tomorrow at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
Subscriptions for the five-concert series are $95, $85 and $75 for Saturdays, and $85, $75 and $65 for Fridays.
Tickets for this weekend's concert only are available for $19, $17 and $15 for Friday, $21, $19 and $17 for Saturday.