The Choral Arts Society’s Good Gamble
Director turnover at an area chorus isn’t necessarily big news. Our city has, at last count, a shit-ton of choruses, many of which are no strangers to administrative upheaval. The past few years haven’t been easy for The Maryland Chorus, The Washington Chorus, and Master Chorale, which saw liquidation, an acrimonious firing, and transition to semipro status, respectively.
But when it’s the Choral Arts Society, it is kind of a big deal. Moreso when it’s the guy who started it, Norman Scribner. CAS unofficially sits at the top of the heap of the local choral scene, usually getting tapped to accompany the National Symphony for its most demanding vocal programs. The chorus has also managed to ride out its own budget problems while avoiding some of the more public blowups affecting rival groups. Both are largely due to Scribner. When their founding director, now 76, announced his retirement nearly two years ago, it wasn’t a surprise, nor did it leave the board suddenly scrambling for a replacement. But it did leave a lot of people wondering for a while who would take his place.
Now we know: Scott Tucker. Who? Yeah, exactly. The guy who finally got the nod after a lengthy selection process is a relative unknown. He hasn’t been in the news much. What we know about him: He’s currently the director of choral music at Cornell University, where he runs the women’s chorus and glee club. He directed the latter at a well-received performance at the Kennedy Center in 2009. He plays the trumpet. He looks sort of like Javier Bardem.
Choral Arts Society executive director Debrah Kraft explains that the search process was long and wide-ranging. “Most of the people who applied, we didn’t know,” she says, including applicants from France, Italy and Australia. “We had no idea we would attract that kind of pool.” The search committee was made up of CAS board members as well as “pro bono advisors.” The fact that those advisors included the choral department head from the University of Michigan, and conductors from Yale and Princeton may have given Professor Tucker a boost. Kraft, though, attributes it to Tucker's proven track record with collaborative projects and fundraising, his relaxed confidence at the podium, and his rapport with the chorus itself during a try-out rehearsal in January. Tucker’s a bit of a gamble, but CAS has a good reputation to ride on while he gets himself established next season.