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ASO dances to Dunner's baton


Earlier in his career, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra conductor Leslie Dunner spent time as principal conductor of New York City's renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem. His biography also includes a stint with the State Ballet of Missouri and engagements on the international ballet circuit.

I thought of all this Saturday as I listened to Dunner put the ASO through its paces in Maurice Ravel's brilliant ballet score, "Daphnis and Chloe."

This is music on the move, as the composer depicts the dancing nymphs, scintillating lights, rippling waters and rising suns of his story line. Dunner had the music sounding so vivid in all its kinesthetic glory, that it was hard not to see figures whirling, extending and jumping across the Maryland Hall stage, especially in the more ebullient moments of Suite #2.

The more I see this conductor in action, the more I am convinced that his ability to tap into the internal energy of a score and make it move along smartly is at the core of his talent. Dunner has the capacity to make phrases lift across bar lines with an impetus that keeps the flow going.

Even in extroverted passages, he crafts an orchestral sound that's buoyant enough not to bog anything down, and the constant sense of motion he strives for seems to be downright inspiring to his players and off-stage singers, who were in superb form Saturday night.

Don't assume for a moment that this penchant for revealing music's internal choreography is something all talented conductors share. They don't, as aficionados who have followed ASO conductor searches and attended past concert seasons know all too well.

While this is not the only interpretive gift that can take an orchestra to the heart of a musical matter, it is a special one indeed, and we're lucky to be taking it in during the Dunner era at Maryland Hall.

Another highlight in last weekend's all-French program was the ASO's reading of "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," Claude Debussy's era-shattering setting of Stephane Mallarme's snoozy symbolist poetry.

With Kimberly Valerio, the orchestra's superb new principal flutist leading the way, this was a "Faun" of considerable grace and delicacy that did full justice to one of the most endlessly inventive scores ever composed.

Snappy cross-rhythms from the winds and brass and some delightfully expansive string playing in the farandole movement made "Suite Provencale," Darius Milhaud's ode to southern France, come across with its full panoply of Gallic charms intact.

Ernest Chausson's "Poem of Love and the Sea" sounded lovely, but in comparison with the rest of the program, the participants seemed to be standing on the outside looking in.

Mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sebron possesses a sumptuous yet regal voice. But to this listener, it seemed she was emphasizing the emotional intimacy of poet Maurice Bouchor's texts while Maestro Dunner was taking a more expansive approach to the composer's orchestral accompaniment.

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