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Changing Notes at the Music Center : Board Considers Revamping President's Role and a Possible New Name for the Complex

August 21, 1996|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The search for a new president at the Music Center of Los Angeles County has been put on indefinite hold while its board of directors considers sweeping changes that would overhaul both professional and volunteer oversight of the 30-year-old performing arts complex, according to its new chairman and chief executive officer.

Andrea Van de Kamp, who assumed the volunteer position in June, said the changes, to be finalized next year--and to some degree depending on the fate of Walt Disney Concert Hall--may include a redefined role for the president, the addition of a new international board of directors and even a new name: the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County.

The center has been without a president since January, when Shelton Stanfill left after a two-year tenure to head Atlanta's Woodruff Performing Arts Center. That same month, Ernest Fleischmann, managing director of the center's Los Angeles Philharmonic, also announced his resignation, effective in June 1997.

While an aggressive search began to find a successor for Fleischmann, no immediate action was taken to replace Stanfill, who has said he left the Music Center primarily because of an unbidden offer from the Woodruff Center. However, sources say he was disappointed that the Music Center presidency was no more than a fund-raising job, with little authority over artistic or programming decisions at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre.

What the board is discussing, Van de Kamp says, would change that, increasing the president's role in center-wide programming and in representing the Music Center in broad areas of arts and cultural policy and management in Los Angeles. Van de Kamp said the new president's job may be more consistent with that role at other performing arts centers around the country, such as Lincoln Center, where there are individual resident companies with their own directors--like the Philharmonic's Fleischmann--but also an overarching leader.

While the president wouldn't be involved in determining what the resident companies present, he or she would oversee such things as center-sponsored festivals, like the recently completed Lincoln Center Festival 96 in New York, as well as programming the theaters when they are not in use by the resident companies and expanding the center's offerings, particularly in jazz and dance.

Directors of the center's resident companies--the Philharmonic, the Center Theater Group, the L.A. Opera and the Master Chorale--have not been directly involved in the board discussions, but they are aware of the changes being considered. L.A. Opera chief Peter Hemmings said that if Disney Hall is built, the opera season will probably expand into time opened up at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. "We are anxious to see the other 26 weeks filled and will obviously cooperate with anyone to make sure this is done," Hemmings said.

Fleischmann is less welcoming of the change. "Obviously, when Disney Hall opens, there will be a need for an impresario-cum-booker for the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion," he said. "It's difficult for me to say whether at this point this should be handled by existing personnel at the resident companies, whether there really is a need and justification for the expenditure to start that type of operation. As presently constituted, I think such a position would be redundant.

"At this point, I would say let's concentrate all our efforts on getting Disney Hall built and see how the opera is able to expand, and see what's really left over for the Chandler. Right now, I think the board needs to get its own house in order first before we move on to the next step."

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From Atlanta, Stanfill said: "I feel strongly that the [administrative] review they are going through right now is essential. There's never been any one person who has looked after the institution as a whole, and there is such a person at Lincoln Center, and there is such a person at Kennedy Center, and there is such a person here. I think it's essential for the strength and support of the resident companies, and . . . it needs to exist for the survival of the center."

So far, the Music Center has existed without such a leader. Center founder Dorothy Chandler, 95, who served as volunteer chairman until 1989, lent the center a strong personal identity until she became inactive in day-to-day affairs, but both she and subsequent chairmen and presidents have concentrated on fund-raising, not the artistic mission of the center as a whole. Center-wide programming fell almost by default to the separate entity called the Music Center Operating Co., which acts as landlord at the center, physically maintaining the complex (with county help) and handling administrative details such as coordinating theater schedules.

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