For nearly 10 years, Maurice Allard and the Master Chorale of Orange County fit together like "Hallelujah" and "Chorus."
Along with Pacific Symphony conductor Keith Clark and Pacific Chorale leader John Alexander, Master Chorale music director Allard was one of the prime shapers of classical music in Orange County. Thinking about the group without Allard, or vice versa, was unimaginable.
Last month, the unimaginable happened. Allard shocked the local music community, resigning suddenly in what he now describes as a dispute with the board of directors over control and direction of the chorale and its pops-oriented subgroup, the Californians.
"I had a blueprint that was not shared by the board," Allard said in a recent interview, ending what had been a fairly long silence on the matter. "We'd grown so fast and furiously. I thought, where was the major energy and funding going? I felt we should focus on the parent organization and not be distracted by anything. The Californians required time, energy and money. . . . It became exhaustive.
"I felt we should not depreciate our energy in funding two organizations. It was a view not shared by the board."
Allard preferred not to elaborate on the split other than to say: "I would have much preferred (leaving at the end of the season). It's always cleaner that way, and I would have felt better. But at that point, it seemed the best thing to do.
"The break is not reparable," he said.
The question now is whether there is life for Allard after the Master Chorale, and life for the chorale after Maurice Allard.
Allard figures to keep his hand in the Orange County arts scene. Already he has taken on one new project, a half-hour cable TV interview show in Costa Mesa (it's on Channel 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 6:30 p.m. Thursdays). His guests this week will be the jazz pianist Cassandra and the "Jazz Allstars" quartet. "This is my first venture outside of classical repertory," Allard said.
And he plans to start his own production company, to write a book on vocal technique and to increase his time spent teaching.
"I am willing to try something else," he said. "I am rather excited about where I am."
Still, he hasn't left a job so much as he has separated from a loved one. "It's been very difficult and painful to let the musical direction go," he admitted. "There was still so much to accomplish.
"I would have enjoyed taking the chorale touring, with varied programs. I would have liked to see more children's concerts and programs for disadvantaged children. Getting kids to sing was such a joy. There were many things I had on the master plan: more concerts, touring, videotaping some of our performances if we could get the funding, youth concerts. . . . And I had been looking forward to conducting (Beethoven's) 'Missa Solemnis'."
He expressed no regrets about this season's opening concert--his last with the Master Chorale--even though the program of music by Andrew Lloyd Webber brought him and the group critical drubbings.
"I really loved conducting the Lloyd Webber 'Requiem'," he said. "It was a statement of what the Master Chorale was all about philosophically--putting music, ballet and theatrical elements together."
He believes that a change in the sound of the chorale with a new director is "inevitable. I created a unique choral sound. It had a lot of brilliance, forward placement, fullness and clarity."
But, he added, "If I were a board member, I would welcome the stimulation of new ideas and concepts."
As for the post-Allard chorale, veteran meister William Hall has been chosen to stand in for Allard at the group's Christmas program, while the board of directors has launched a search for a permanent replacement. (See accompanying story.)
Maurice Allard didn't always know he wanted to conduct a chorus.
He grew up on a farm in Christopher, Ill., approximately 26 miles from Carbondale, and began his study of music on the accordion.
"In those days, there was nothing (musical) there," Allard said. "My parents drove me every night to lessons in neighboring towns."
His first teacher set him to work on learning rhythms. "He said, we have a lot of work to do before you begin to work on the instrument. He gave me a solfeggio book and a pencil and said, 'That's your baton.' He told me I would tap rhythms for six months. I went from the most simple to the most complex rhythms. . . .
"I credit that experience for my love of intricate rhythms and the feeling that tempo and rhythm are the basis for performance practices."
Allard moved on to piano, clarinet and eventually voice.
"I had my first voice lesson at 17, which is late," he said. "But I fell in love with singing. I dropped all the band and orchestra work to accomplish that."
As part of his first teaching job, at Eastern Illinois University, he was asked to conduct the Cecilian Choir, a women's chorus of 90 singers,
"I'm amazed that it went well," he said. "It became very popular. But I wanted to sing, not conduct."