From Currie's viewpoint, however, the business at hand takes dominance over the why's and wherefore's of his moves.
"I must judge morale on the quality of rehearsals," he says, "and what I hear tells me it is high. I'm not a revolutionary. And I've tried to retain a substantial body of continuity. But no one can know whether I'm fair or honest in a few weeks. Only I know that."
While the issue of the Chorale roster seems to be crucial, it's not the only controversy thus far in Currie's tenure. The "absolute authority" he speaks of applies to all manner of things, "up to and including determining programs and deciding on guest conductors."
While Cliff Miller, executive committee chairman, says Roger Wagner was supposed to "continue in some important capacity," in truth the Chorale's founder has been put aside.
"It doesn't seem to me," says Currie, "that an outgoing director would want to hang around during his successor's first season and get in the fellow's way. I know that when I left the Scottish National, I wanted to break the ties cleanly. When you go, go. But I did invite Wagner to do a program this season. The one in January, featuring opera choruses."
As for his expansion plans, Currie says he is still negotiating. Whereas Wagner presented roughly five programs per season, some with repeat performances, the new director will increase that number.
"The board wouldn't expect me to come here without fully utilizing what I have to offer," he says. "As a matter of fact, the first time they sent word of their interest in me as a director, I didn't follow up because I was just gaining my free-lancer's stride. When the second offer came, two years later, I took a harder look. They made it right and came up with more specific proposals."
One of the "important expansions" on his agenda for the 1987-88 season is a three-concert series under joint auspices with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which he will conduct. As is the case with most choral directors, Currie would like to see his career include orchestral conducting. "We're all egotists," he says, "and are convinced of our multiple talents."
Recently, this area has opened up for him and he has led several European ensembles of the second-rank category--the Jerusalem Symphony and Bournemouth Sinfonietta--as well as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He says he hopes to continue the pursuit right here, with Chamber Orchestra programs including straight instrumental music.
"At this stage of my life, I would not agree to being put in a choral box," he says, explaining how the board was able to sweeten the career pie with these future conducting opportunities. He sees his new post "as a potentially big job" and plans to keep up the free-lance work as an adjunct.
So far, Currie indicates only a small involvement with the Music Center Opera, but he worked for eight years with the Scottish Opera in many different capacities--casting, planning, budgeting, conducting--and assisted Claudio Abbado in a production of "Carmen" with Mirella Freni and Placido Domingo. All he intends right now is "to train a first-class chorus master" who will be in charge for the upcoming Pavilion opera stagings.
Indeed, the reason Currie gave for abdicating the Scottish choral throne was a fear of artistic entrapment. "I felt in danger of becoming the grand old man of choral music in the land of splendid choral music," he says. It was the "terror of that image, the chest covered with medals" that drove him to other climes, other musical explorations."
But what he found, out in the free-lance world, was "just the illusion of freedom." For all its "glamour and adventure," Currie says he came to realize the importance of staying in one place "long enough to build something valuable." He says he is "conscious that this is the honeymoon period"--notwithstanding the flap over personnel changes--but seizes the moment with full-blown optimism.
"What happened before I landed on the scene is none of my business," Currie says. "These are things gossiped about at the village pump. More to the point, my opinions on how the Chorale board handled its decisions (paying off its founding director and naming a successor) are of no consequence.
"I don't want to talk about Roger Wagner," he says. "The future of the Master Chorale lies with John Currie."