“I do have mixed feelings about moving from Scotland to California,” says John Currie, incoming music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, who begins his tenure with the 110-voice chorale at his first rehearsal with the group Sept. 15.
“Yes, with no plans at all to return to Scotland, I would have mixed feelings, as anyone would. My roots are in Scotland.”
For 17 years conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra Chorus and music director of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus since 1983, the Prestwick native at one time was leader of all four major Scottish choral organizations: the national and Edinburgh groups, the chorus of Scottish Opera and the John Currie Singers.
“But music is more important than roots,” Currie said. In fact, he told The Times, via transatlantic telephone, that, for 1986-87, the only choral assignment he will fulfill will be “the Master Chorale’s business. That comes first. Of course, I may take some symphonic engagements during this year.”
The 52-year-old conductor meets the chorale at that first rehearsal two weeks hence. Then he will see the ensemble twice a week until the Nov. 8 opening of its 23rd season in the Pavilion of the Music Center when they will perform Verdi’s Requiem.
How has that ensemble changed since Currie completed auditions in July? Rumors would have led one to believe that a turnover of more than 50% had occurred from the end of last season until now.
As reported by Robert Wiloughby Jones, executive director of the organization, Currie heard 500 singers, including some 150 formerly connected with the Chorale, between January and July.
“Well, the changes are not as extensive as some of those rumors would have you think,” said Currie.
From his Music Center office, Jones offered some statistics, numbers clouded by the fact, he said, that “Roger Wagner (former music director of the Chorale) worked from a pool of about 125 singers total, not the 75 singers prescribed by union rules.”
In the reconstructed professional contingent (75 of the 110 Chorale members), “the numbers are these,” Jones said: “Of the sopranos, 10 out of 21 are returning; altos, 11 out of 18 are returning; tenors, 12 out of 18 returning; basses, 13 out of 18 returning. That makes a total of 46 returning singers out of the group of 75 paid singers, or 61% returning.”
One of those singers, tenor Marshall Ramirez of Long Beach, a longtime member of the group, said: “When we heard that Mr. Currie was auditioning outsiders before he heard us last spring, we were a little upset. And, as the word got out, not through any official channels, about who had been held over and who had been let go, some of us began to scratch our heads.”
Ramirez says he has no complaint, however; he was one of those chosen to remain in the group.
Jones describes the turnover in personnel in numerical terms: “Out of a pool of approximately 125 singers, 35 were not invited to return. Since then, however, 10 of those 35 have been asked to sing with the Chorale--not for the entire season, but in concerts where the ensemble is increased in size. For example, for the Ninth Symphony (at Hollywood Bowl two weeks ago) or for the Verdi Requiem (in November) or for ‘Alexander Nevsky’ (on the L.A. Philharmonic season, Nov. 13-16).”
In the meantime, Jones said, the Master Chorale is providing the 70-voice chorus for Verdi’s “Otello” and Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” which open the first resident season of Music Center Opera in October.
“That chorus will have 21 singers, or 30% of its personnel, who are not regular members of the Master Chorale, but were especially picked by Mr. Currie for their larger voices,” Jones said.
In this interim period between Master Chorale music directors, the opera chorus, like the Master Chorale ensemble that sang at Hollywood Bowl this summer, has been prepared by Robert Porco of Indiana University.
AT HOLLYWOOD BOWL: Dame Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti, who have been working colleagues since the mid-1960s--when they toured Australia together--team up again this week, for a concert in Hollywood Bowl, Saturday night at 8. This special, non-subscription event will benefit the Musicians’ Pension Fund of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The celebrated Australian soprano and the Italian tenor from Modena will sing excerpts from Donizetti’s “Fille du Regiment,” “Lucrezia Borgia” “Linda di Chamounix” and “L’Elisir d’Amore,” and from Verdi’s “La Traviata,” “I Due Foscari” and “Un Ballo in Maschera.” In addition, Dame Joan will sing an aria from Federico Ricci’s “Crispino e la Comare.” Richard Bonynge will conduct the Philharmonic.
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski is the other Bowl conductor this week. The Polish-born musician will lead our Philharmonic on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Tuesday his soloist is John Browning and his program by Beethoven: the “Egmont” Overture, the Piano Concerto No. 3 and the “Eroica” Symphony.
Thursday, Skrowaczewski leads Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival” Overture, the First Piano Concerto by Rachmaninoff and Ravel’s Ballet Suites Nos. 1 and 2 from “Daphnis et Chloe.” Soloist in the final installment of the Rachmaninoff concerto cycle for 1986 is Vovka Ashkenazy, the 25-year-old son of pianist/conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy.
ALSO THIS WEEK: The 1986-87 musical season at Ambassador Auditorium opens Saturday night, when the Philharmonia Orchestra from London, led by its principal conductor, Giuseppe Sinopoli, offers a program devoted to the Second Symphony of Robert Schumann and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.
Ronald Leonard, principal cellist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, opens the 1986-87 season of the South Bay Chamber Music Society, Friday night at 8 at Harbor College in Wilmington. Assisted by pianist Antoinette Kreuger-Perry, Leonard will play a program devoted to sonatas by Haydn, George Crumb, Debussy and Dohnanyi.
A concert benefitting the newly formed Old Pasadena Arts Society, Saturday at 5 p.m., will feature violinists Endre Granat and Alexander Horvath, among other players, in a program of music by Beethoven, Villa-Lobos, Bartok and Stravinsky. The event, to take place in Castle Green, 99 S. Raymond Ave., begins fund-raising for a projected summer music festival to be given at Castle Green in 1987.
Opening a five-day, seven-performance engagement at the Japan America Theatre in Little Tokyo, the Grand Kabuki of Japan arrives Wednesday from Vancouver, where the 35-member troupe appeared at Expo 86. Information: (213) 680-3700.