Arts Desk

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.

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  • Gilbert Adams

    I was looking forward to reading about the new AD, but I'm so sick and tired of people who can't write without using four-letter words, I stopped reading at the first one. If there's an appropriate place for them, it's not this article. It's like walking in a park where people don't pick up after their dogs.

  • J. Hansen

    I think CAS has made an excellent choice in Dr. Tucker. His work with the Cornell Men's Glee Club has been nothing short of extraordinary. Check out a recent recording, "Last Letter Home" (Amazon) to see what he can do with an amateur singing group whose membership turns over 100% every three to four years.

  • Robert S.

    Completely agree w/ Gilbert Adams. Why the gratuitous profanity? It adds nothing to the piece exception distraction. "Profanity is the conversational crutch of the cripple," as they say, and the same goes for writing -- especially in a piece about the performing arts (!). Mr. Paarlberg, please restrain yourself next time. Thank you.

  • Alto

    Correction: The Master Chorale of Washington (MCW) folded. It didn't "transition" to semi-pro status. Like some of the other major choruses, a few members were paid professionals with the bulk being highly skilled volunteers. Members of the former MCW established a new but smaller chorus and increased both the number and the percentage of professional (paid) singers. I believe only a few small chamber choruses, including the Bach Consort, are comprised of only professional choristers. I'm pretty sure the Maryland Chorus, the Washington Chorus, as well as the Choral Arts Society are comprised only of volunteer choristers, albeit many of the singers are "professional caliber." And many of the singers work as professional musicians elsewhere--as school teachers, church music directors and organists, church soloists, and private teachers.