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Shootout At The Master Chorale

December 01, 1985

Donna Perlmutter's admirably restrained report of the Byzantine politics of culture-vultures in forcing the retirement of Roger Wagner deserves praise--and comment ("Wagner's Era Ends With a Whimper," Nov. 17).

The Los Angeles Master Chorale is the one world-recognized, top-flight contribution to music to come out of Los Angeles, now or ever. It is the creation of Roger Wagner.

It may well be time for his retirement--now, or sooner, or later--but that is irrelevant to the manner of it, which is simply obscene. I have worked under, over and with Roger at various times in the past 35 years, as well as "against" him in union negotiations, and I envy neither his opponents nor Roger their mutual relationships.

But that personalities involved are often less than mutually ingratiating is no novelty in the arts, nor even in the hallowed halls of boards, where, unfortunately, artistic decisions are made not necessarily on behalf of art nor even human decency, but in the name of reflected power and glory by eminently forgettable non-artists.

This was not true in the beginning, when such genuinely knowledgeable and artistically concerned men as Z. Wayne Griffin and Louis Statham gave material aid to the building of the Chorale.

Apart from and beyond the immediate shabby conduct is the future of the Chorale. Ernest Fleischmann always yearned for unpaid amateur choruses.

The new chorus master (John Currie), whose excellence is not now in question, is famed for his amateur chorus experience. The Chorale Board appears to have been increasingly intimidated by Fleischmann. It seems clearly probable that it was being moved toward the destruction of the Chorale as a professional ensemble.

If this be the best course, I suggest that fresh young orchestras from neighboring colleges replace the Philharmonic, with amateur soloists, amateur stagehands, amateur box-office crews, and even, at last--Oh Glory!--amateur management. Think of the money the Music Center would save! And what else matters?

HENRY REESE

Hollywood

Reese was the Chairman of the Southern California Executive Committee of AGMA (the American Guild of Musical Artists) for 25 years.

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