Paul Salamunovich KCSG (born June 7, 1927) is a Grammy-Nominated, American choral conductor and educator.
He is the Music Director Emeritus of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, after having served as Music Director from 1991 to 2001. He served as Director of Music at St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood, California, for 60 years between 1949 and 2009. In addition, he has held academic positions at a number of Southern California universities.
He is acknowledged as an expert in Gregorian chant and has long been recognized for his contributions in the field of sacred music, most notably receiving a Papal knighthood in the Order of St. Gregory the Great from Pope Paul VI in 1969. He is also a master clinician, having been invited to conduct just under 1000 festivals and workshops around the world including an unprecedented four consecutive ACDA national conventions—all with different groups.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Recordings and DVDs
- 3 Motion picture and TV work
- 4 Awards and recognition
- 5 References
- 6 External links
The youngest of five sons born to immigrant parents from what is now Croatia, he was born in Redondo Beach, California where he attended St. James Elementary School. When a young priest arrived at the parish and started a boy's choir, Salamunovich joined and, as he says, "I was hooked." This choir sang exclusively in Gregorian chant, and "all we did was sing funerals," he said. This early foundation in Gregorian chant, he added, "influenced the music I specialize in, and the techniques I use."
In 1940, at the age of 13, Salamunovich and his family moved to Hollywood, California, where they joined a new church and parochial school at Blessed Sacrament whose men's and boy's choirs director were led by Richard Keys Biggs, the organ teacher of famed choral director Roger Wagner. Despite starting in the boys choir three years older than was typical, Salamunovich impressed Biggs with his tone and was allowed to join. He remained in the choir even when he moved to a public high school the following year. At age 14, he began singing with Wagner.
He attended Hollywood High School where, among other things, he met the former Dorothy Hilton, and they became high school sweethearts. (They later married on May 20, 1950, and they have had five children.) After graduating high school in 1945, he enlisted in the United States Navy and spent a year in Pearl Harbor replacing sailors who were sent home after World War II.
Singing and conducting career
After completing his Naval enlistment, Salamunovich returned to Southern California at the age of 19. Hearing of his return, Roger Wagner contacted Salamunovich and asked him to join his newly formed Los Angeles Concert Youth Chorus—whose other members included a 13-year old Marilyn Horne and 14-year old Marni Nixon; this choir later evolved into the Roger Wagner Chorale in 1948. Wagner eventually suggested that Salamunovich study music in college. This led to the beginning of his professional conducting career.
When Wagner's commitments to his own chorale began to take more of his time, he decided to install Salamunovich as choir director at St. Charles Borromeo church in North Hollywood in 1949. A more accurate retelling of the story is that Wagner told the pastor that Salamunovich had experience conducting and playing the organ, neither of which was true! When Salamunovich tried to decline, Wagner insisted so that he could be free to pursue other opportunities. Reluctantly, Salamunovich took the post and over the next sixty years, led the choir in the their regular services as well as in a number of high-profile performances, including multiple appearances at the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Biennial National Conventions. Most notably, the St. Charles Choir has sung for Pope John Paul II in private audience at the Vatican, for the official Mass of Greeting with the Pope presiding in St. Vibiana's Cathedral in Los Angeles and in St. Peter's Square on the Feasts of St.'s Peter and Paul with the Pope presiding in high Mass. They hold the distinction of being the only American choir to be honored with this invitation. The St. Charles Choir has performed on the soundtracks of the motion pictures, "Flatliners", "Grand Canyon" and "True Confessions" on which he also coached Robert De Niro on the sung responses of the Latin Mass. They have also performed on television including The NBC Doc Severinson Christmas Special. His St. Charles Boys Choir ghosted as the Disneyland Boys Choir on the original "It's A Small World" album. They also performed on television in the Dinah Shore Chevy Special, The Lucy Show, the Bette Davis film, "Dead Ringer" and on the Soundtrack of "The Godfather". Former boys choir members include Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former UCLA football coach, Terry Donahue. He finally retired from his post at St. Charles in June 2009.
He served as Assistant Conductor of the Roger Wagner Chorale from 1953 to 1977. When Wagner formed the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Salamunovich also became Assistant Conductor of the Master Chorale. In this capacity, he prepared choirs for numerous performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, including those conducted by Igor Stravinsky, Bruno Walter, Eugene Ormandy, Georg Solti, Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, Valeri Gergiev and Simon Rattle, among many others.
When the Board of Directors of the Master Chorale and Wagner parted ways in 1986, Wagner recommended Salamunovich to replace him; however, the board decided to ignore Wagner and instead hired Scottish conductor John Currie as Music Director. Currie held the position until the end of the 1991 season; the Master Chorale's board then named Salamunovich as Music Director in January 1991 effective the Fall of that year. "I'm sort of like the prodigal son, come back," Salamunovich said. "My choral heritage is this group."
Once he took over the Master Chorale, Salamunovich set out to restore and even better the signature sound that existed for many years before Currie's tenure. As many insiders already knew, Salamunovich was actually the one who was more responsible for that tone, having led the Chorale in the vast majority of their rehearsals as assistant conductor during that time with Wagner, stepping in to conduct the performances. "I expect to take back your tone about 25 years," Salamunovich told his singers at his first rehearsal as Music Director. "The choir has been top-heavy, very top-heavy. I want to get back to a pyramid blend, to the sound of an over-tone choir." In later interviews with the Los Angeles Times, his approach was described as follows:
The smooth line of Gregorian chant is the goal, Salamunovich says. So is "looseness": releasing the muscles as if "throwing up." Articulation and audience comprehension too are ongoing themes. Not just diction but the quality of sound should convey meaning, the conductor maintains. "The foundation is built on the male voices. . . . I don't allow the sopranos to override them. I take the growl out of the basses and the ping out of the tenors. It's a kinder, gentler tone that says 'I love you.' "
He replaced Currie's bright, operatic sound with a kinder and gentler sonority, mellow and blended "with the energy – or, should I say, foundation of the sound – coming from the lower voices."
His sound, though initially influenced by Wagner's is more nimble and less heavy without becoming lyrical unless the style of the piece requires it. Salamunovich describes it as "Fervently with passion." As Wagner once said, "Paul, you make them sing the way you sang."
He led the Los Angeles Master Chorale for ten years, during which time he covered a broad range of repertoire from Renaissance pieces by 16th-century composer Tomas Luis de Vittoria to modern works, most notably those written by Morten Lauridsen, the Master Chorale's Composer-in-Residence from 1994 through 2001. "There's not a note I've written over these years in which I didn't have Paul and the unique sound he achieves with the Master Chorale in mind," Lauridsen once said. "The way phrases are put together and melody is created—I always write for them." The relationship between conductor and composer resulted in pieces such as O Magnum Mysterium, Lux Aeterna, and—written for Salamunovich's 70th birthday – Ave Maria. Salamunovich is also known for his interpretations of the 20th-century French composer Maurice Duruflé whose compositions for orchestra and chorus are based upon chant motifs. Salamunovich prepared the St. Charles Choir for a performance of Durufle's Requiem with the composer conducting in 1967. It was their only meeting and with Salamunovich speaking no French and Duruflé speaking no English, their communication was left almost entirely to the music. Years later, one of Salamunovich's students toured the composer's home in Paris which is curated by the Duruflé Society and found a picture of Salamunovich and Duruflé on the wall some 40 years later commemorating their brief albeit memorable collaboration.
Upon retiring as Music Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale in 2001, he was immediately named Music Director Emeritus, a title he still holds. He is one of the most in-demand clinicians having conducted almost 1000 workshops and festivals throughout the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, South America, Europe, Australia and the Far East. He led the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and the Master Chorale of the United States as part of the annual Festival of Sacred Music at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome in November 2003. In 2012, he was an inaugural inductee to the Loyola Marymount University Faculty Hall of Fame.
In listening to the groups that Salamunovich has led full-time at the professional, collegiate and church levels as well as his numerous guest conducting positions around the world, it is noteworthy he manages to get his signature sound and interpretation no matter what level of ability the singers possess. He also manages to accomplish this in a remarkably short amount of rehearsal time. His rehearsals are performances in themselves in which his analogies and "word pictures" turn subjective concepts into definable sounds that can immediately be grasped by the singers he conducts. His extremely successful international career as a choral clinician is a testament to his prodigious abilities as a teacher of the choral arts. An especially remarkable footnote to Salamunovich's entire career is he never set out to be a conductor and has never asked for an appointment in his life. Every single post or engagement he's ever accepted was offered to him. What is also noteworthy is his first post as a church choir conductor, is typically an entry-level post. Yet Salamunovich kept that first position his entire career while ascending up the ranks to the pinnacle of preeminent, American, choral conductors. He would regularly schedule his professional conducting duties on the international and national levels around his church duties so that he could be in the choir loft at St. Charles every Sunday (excluding summers) with rare exceptions.
- Mount St. Mary's College: music faculty for 18 years
- Loyola Marymount University: music faculty (1964–1990), Director of Choral Activities, named Professor Emeritus in 1993, inaugural inductee to the Loyola Marymount Faculty Hall of Fame in 2012.
- USC Thornton School of Music: Adjunct Professor of Choral Music, Director of the USC Thornton Chamber Choir (2007–2008)
In addition, he has taught 831 clinics and workshops throughout the U.S., Canada, South America, the Bahamas, Europe, Australia, and the Far East.
- In 1988, they sang at the Mass for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul with Pope John Paul II presiding in St. Peter's Square in Rome. They are the only American choir ever invited to sing at this occasion.
- In 1987, they performed at the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana for the official welcome of the Pontiff to the City of Los Angeles
- In 1985, they performed for the Pope in a private audience in Clementine Hall of the Vatican Palace.
Recordings and DVDs
Los Angeles Master Chorale releases
- Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen (also featuring other Lauridsen works: Chansons des Roses, Ave Maria, Mid-Winter Songs, and O Magnum Mysterium) (RCM) Grammy Nomination for Best Choral Performance, 1998.
- Dominic Argento's Te Deum and Missa "Cum Jubilo" by Maurice Duruflé (with Rodney Gilfry as baritone soloist and Frederick Swann on organ (RCM))
- Christmas, a collection of songs (RCM)
Los Angeles Philharmonic releases
- Claude Debussy, Trois nocturnes and La Damoiselle Elué, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting (Sony Classics)
- Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 3, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting (Sony Classics)
Hollywood Bowl Orchestra releases
- Rodgers & Hammerstein, The King & I, John Mauceri conducting (Phillips Classics)
- Schoenberg/Ravel, Earth Day, John Mauceri conducting (Phillips Classics)
- Hollywood Nightmares (various composers), John Mauceri conducting (Phillips Classics)
- "Choral Perspectives: Paul Salamunovich, Chant and Beyond" (2007), a documentary released by Hal Leonard Publishing
Motion picture and TV work
Salamunovich has been responsible for choral music for over 100 film and TV productions including "The Godfather" "Angels and Demons" First Knight, Air Force One, A.I., XXX, Peter Pan, Flatliners, ER, The Sum of All Fears, and Cirque du Soleil's Journey of Man. He coached Robert De Niro in Latin for the role of a priest in True Confessions in addition to preparing the choir for that movie.
His St. Charles Borromeo choir appeared with Henry Mancini and Doc Severinson in the NBC Christmas Eve Special, while the boy choir has been featured on television on "The Lucy Show" and with Dinah Shore in the "Chevy Show." His St. Charles Boy's Choir appeared as the Disneyland Boys Choir on the original Disney album, "It's A Small World".
Awards and recognition
- Papal knighthood in the Order of St. Gregory the Great
- "Distinguished Artist Award" from the Music Center of Los Angeles County (1995)
- "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the American Choral Directors Association (2000)
- Grammy nomination for recording of Lux Aeterna and other choral works by Morten Lauridsen
- "Salamunovich Speaks: An interview with Paul Salamunovich". 21st Century Chorister website. Retrieved 2008-02-17.
- Lindell, Karen (March 18, 2004). "Voice of Experience". Ventura County Star (California).
- "Salamunovich Speaks: An interview with Paul Salamunovich". 21st Century Chorister website. Retrieved 2008-02-17.
- "Biography for Paul Salamunovich". IMDb: The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-02-17.
- Dutka, Elaine (December 17, 2000). "MANY VOICES, BUT ONE MAN'S SOUND; DESPITE DISTRACTIONS IN HIS FINAL SEASON, THE L.A. MASTER CHORALE'S MAESTRO IS INTENTLY FOCUSED ON SHAPING THOSE SIGNATURE TONES.". Los Angeles Times.
- "Bio: Paul Salamunovich, conductor". Los Angeles Master Chorale website. Retrieved 2008-02-17.
- Voland, John (April 18, 1986). "WAGNER TO DEPART ON A SOUR NOTE". Los Angeles Times.
- Henken, John (February 1, 1991). "THE L.A. CHORALE'S NEW MASTER; MUSIC: VETERAN CONDUCTOR AND CHORAL MISSIONARY PAUL SALAMUNOVICH WILL BE THE GROUP'S THIRD MUSIC DIRECTOR. HE REPLACES JOHN CURRIE ON SEPT. 1.". Los Angeles Times.
- Henken, John (October 12, 1991). "CHORALE MASTER'S MISSION: BACK TO THE FUTURE". Los Angeles Times.
- Dutka (December 17, 2000)
- Mangan, Timothy (December 18, 1994). "THE PANACHE IS BACK; PAUL SALAMUNOVICH HAS RESTORED THE L.A. MASTER CHORALE'S TO ITS FORMER GLORY; NOW, THERE'S THE AUDIENCE PROBLEM". Los Angeles Times.
- Dutka (December 17, 2000)
- Henken (February 1, 1991)
- Faculty Profile at USC Thornton School of Music website
- Bio on the Los Angeles Master Chorale website
- 21st Century Chorister website: Salamunovich Speaks – An interview with Paul Salamunovich
- Salamunovich's Army Facebook Fanpage