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A new hill to climb

Stephen D. Rountree, chosen to head the Music Center just as Disney Hall is nearing completion, looks forward to the considerable challenges before him.

November 06, 2002|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

On Tuesday morning, Stephen D. Rountree gamely posed for pictures and sat down at a sunny cafe table alongside the fountain on the Music Center plaza for his first interview as president of the downtown performing arts complex.

But the conversation had to take place early: Rountree, an affable 53-year-old Pasadena native, was on his way to a morning meeting in a trailer.

Though brand new to the president's role -- the Music Center board elected him unanimously Monday afternoon; he formally starts on Nov. 18 -- Rountree has spent the last 3 1/2 years as part of the volunteer oversight committee for the Music Center's newest performing arts venue: Walt Disney Concert Hall. Once a week, he and a board of community and artistic leaders have been meeting in a trailer near the construction site to discuss fundraising and other issues.

It is those unglamorous trailer talks about Disney Hall that bonded Rountree and the Music Center leadership. But it is his involvement with another new Los Angeles landmark that landed him his challenging new job. In his current post as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the J. Paul Getty Trust, Rountree, a 22-year Getty veteran, played a major role in overseeing the 1997 opening of the billion-dollar Getty Center in Brentwood.

The search for a new president began in April, when Joanne Kozberg announced her resignation effective as soon as a replacement could be found.

"In the process of that search, I met with 18 or 19 board members, as well as other center representatives," Rountree said. "There seemed to be a strong emphasis on the need for management and efficient organizing, in order to get the concert hall opened in an efficient way."

Initially, the Music Center directors thought they wanted Kozberg's replacement to play an impresario's role in bringing new programming to the performing arts complex.

That demand will become much greater as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale -- two of the center's four resident companies along with Los Angeles Opera and Center Theater Group -- make their September move into the new Walt Disney Concert Hall, leaving more dark time at their current home, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

But soon, says Rountree, it was decided that "the impresario role was too narrow for the president," he said.

Still, when he starts in a week and a half, one of Rountree's immediate tasks will be to hire a programming executive -- a first for the center -- to handle the new artistic challenges.

And, although Rountree plans to leave most programming duties to a new executive, he doesn't mind expressing a few of his hopes for Disney Hall.

"There are still a significant number of nights not taken by the Phil or the Master Chorale, particularly in the summer," he said.

"We will have some fantastic opportunities. The hall is designed for performance involving acoustic music, not amplified electronic music, but I'm going out on a limb here; I don't see why we couldn't present an Eric Clapton or even an Alanis Morissette.

"We need to reach out for this kind of music. And even though the Chandler will be the primary venue for dance, there are certain kinds of contemporary dance that might benefit from Disney Hall's more intimate space."

Rountree also wants the Music Center to use Disney Hall as a magnet to make the Music Center more user-friendly, even during the day -- perhaps providing audio tours and brochures to those interested in the hall as mainly as architecture, in hopes of luring them back to sample the performance offerings at the center. Its restaurants will be open during the day, available to jurors at nearby courthouses, who will use the concert hall's parking lots.

"Frank Gehry calls it the city's living room, and that's how I see it, too," he said. The opening of Disney Hall, he said, is "an opportunity to welcome the public, to use its visibility as an opportunity to promote the whole Music Center and reintroduce all the resident companies."

When it comes to the resident companies, Rountree sees himself as a facilitator in creating a more "collegial climate" among organizations that often compete for funding from the same pool of arts-minded donors.

"I've observed a level of competitiveness between the resident companies that is no secret," he said. "I think the board was attracted to me not just by my ability to open buildings but by my ability to create transparent, positive, collegial relationships."

Rountree has plans for the Music Center's education programs as well; he hopes they will include more youth-oriented performances, not just in the theaters but also on the plaza.

Chairman Van de Kamp called Rountree a natural fit for the president's role.

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