The Cincinnati Enquirer
By Janelle Gelfand
Conductor Gisèle Ben-Dor confirms the growing belief that a woman's place is on the podium.
The guest conductor galvanized Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra in its season-opening concert Sunday afternoon in Memorial Hall. Her program of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Haydn resulted in a memorable debut that twice brought the crowd of 521 to its feet.
Ms. Ben-Dor, music director of the Santa Barbara Symphony and Boston Pro Arte Chamber Orhcestra, is authoritative, intelligent and dynamic, but what is most striking about her conducting is her musicality. With her clear, precise beat and immense arsenal of interpretative gestures, nothing was left to the imagination Sunday, and the CCO responded with inspired playing.
For instance, in the first theme of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings , she favored big, bold gestures, resulting in a dark timbre and firm ensemble. The waltzes of the second movment were full of charm and spontaneity; phrases were lilting and elegant, yet they always had momentum.
In the impassioned Elegie , one could see the influence of Ms. Ben-Dor's mentor, Leonard Bernstein. Several times in the ensuing Beethoven concert and Haydn's Symphony No. 104, she leapt into the air to punctuate a phrase. Nothing was predictable or contrived about her direction, and that made it all the more riveting.
That rare musical alchemy continued with pianist James Tocco, eminent scholar/artist-in-residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, who was soloist in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat.
It was a vibrant, satisfying collaboration. Mr. Tocco, who made his debut at age 12 with this work, played with utmost finesse and captured its near-Mozartean spirit with pristine articulation.
Ms. Ben-Dor proved a superior partner, matching Mr. Tocco's tempos perfectly, and often turning to communicate with him.
To conclude the afternoon, Ms. Ben-Dor led Haydn's last symphony, the "London," without a score. The ensemble in the strings was excellent, and the brass never overpowered, even in the acoustically problematic hall.
Ms. Ben-Dor pushed the finale ahead on pure adrenaline, and her drive to the finish ended with a leap.