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Mauceri giving up Bowl post next year

The affable orchestra director wants to explore new avenues. He will continue as founding director.

October 14, 2005|Scott Timberg | Times Staff Writer

John Mauceri, the extroverted director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, will step down at the end of the summer 2006 season, Los Angeles Philharmonic President Deborah Borda will announce today.

The conductor, a protege of Leonard Bernstein who has conducted widely across the United States and Europe, will continue as founding director, she said Thursday, with an annual presence at the Bowl. "John has come to a kind of watershed in his career," said Borda. "He turned 60 this summer and celebrated his 300th concert with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra," a group founded and now managed by the Philharmonic. "If he doesn't explore some things now, he feels he won't be able to explore them at all."

She added that she has not seriously focused on seeking a replacement.

Mauceri, who was rehearsing Strauss' "Ariadne auf Naxos" with the Pittsburgh Opera, where he is music director, did not return calls for comment by press time. But in a statement provided by the Philharmonic, the New York-based conductor said that "it is time for me to be able to pursue other opportunities with my full attention," after 15 summers in Los Angeles.

"With the founding of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in 1991, we set out to show that music expresses human continuity," he said in the statement.

"Our goal was to break down some of the barriers between musical genres and also celebrate the rich cultural history of the United States and especially Los Angeles. Since that time, the more than four million people who attended our concerts have enthusiastically gone on this journey with me and this orchestra. Our audiences have embraced our vision, and for all of their support we are most deeply grateful."

Borda said Mauceri will pursue his interests in contemporary music and opera -- he conducted opera companies in London, Milan, New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Orange County before coming to the Bowl and was music director of the Scottish Opera from 1987 to 1994 -- as well as writing. "There may be a big book, or a series of books," she said.

When he took over the group, initiated in part by the Philips Classics label for its recording potential, Mauceri called it "an orchestra for all tastes" and "an orchestra that could play anything."

But he made clear he did not want the orchestra, which plays in the 18,000-seat Hollywood Bowl, to be a traditional pops combo.

"Pops concerts are the worst idea in the world," he said in a 1990 speech in Scotland. "It's like putting a leech on a corpse."

Specifically, he was frustrated the way traditional orchestras -- with their division into a light summer pops festival and a heavy winter season -- seemed to divide the repertoire into music that was pleasurable and music that was good for you.

Mauceri made a strong push into film music, and he has been a frequent advocate for such composers as Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Max Steiner and Nino Rota, as well as more familiar American voices such as Bernstein and John Williams. His recordings, many with the Bowl orchestra, include film scores and other repertory.

He also has emphasized creating context that would give different pieces meaning when placed together. "I've learned a lot about music I didn't know much about before," he told The Times in 1995, regarding his first few years on the job, "which is good because I basically am a person who likes to study, likes to learn and tell people what I've learned."

In Los Angeles, the outgoing, crowd-pleasing Mauceri developed a cult of personality through social appearances, his Bowl work and addresses to audience before concerts. In a 1992 Times story he said his concerts "seem to be moving toward a radio show with various components" and called himself "the Garrison Keillor of conductors."

Some have found his confidence and extravagant speeches to be glib and excessive, and critics generally have given his conducting mixed reviews. Those who see him, though, usually conclude he is enjoying himself.

Borda described the programming Mauceri developed at the Bowl as "sort of its own unique L.A. genre," with its mix of film music, standard repertoire, Broadway and unusual programs like collaborations with dance companies. "It's really an iconoclastic brew."

Borda said she and the Phil were "delighted" that Mauceri would remain a part of the organization. "It was a hard decision for him, but he won't be a stranger," she said. "He'll be back -- we'll see him on the podium every summer."

The Philharmonic will search for a replacement, she said, but not immediately. "My priority right now is to plan a wonderful farewell season."

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