Chorale board chair says group is on solid financial ground in the midst of ‘exciting transitions’
TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
As the Turtle Creek Chorale is in the midst of gearing up for its 32nd season, word came this week that the chorale’s artistic director for the last four years, Jonathan Palant, had resigned, and that David Fisher had been hired as the new executive director.
Fisher replaces Stephan Tosha, who announced in May that he would be resigning at the end of July to take a position with Morgan Stanley financial services firm.
But despite the upheaval in the chorale’s top staff positions, board chair the Rev. Dawson Taylor said this week that the chorale is in excellent financial position and that the 32nd season, set to kick off Oct. 23 with “Messiah” at the Meyerson Symphony Center, will continue as scheduled.
“We are moving ahead with our ticket sales and looking at all our options” regarding an artistic director for the season, Taylor said. He said the board is creating a committee to conduct a national search to replace Palant and at the same time discussing how to fill that vacancy in the meantime.
“We expect the search to take six to eight months,” Taylor said. “We will determine how the podium is handled until a new artistic director is hired. We may possibly name an interim artistic conductor, or we may work with guest conductors for different programs. Either way, I am confident the chorale will be in good hands until we find a permanent replacement.”
Taylor said it is very possible that if choosing an interim director, the board would choose “someone local,” and that an interim director would be “someone the membership is comfortable with and confident in.”
Taylor said that Palant had turned in his resignation during a previously scheduled meeting with Taylor on Monday morning, July 18.
“He simply stated that he is leaving [the chorale] to pursue other interests, and I am taking him at his word,” Taylor said.
In an interview Thursday afternoon, July 21, Palant said he is not in a position to disclose details about his future plans at this time, saying only that he resigned from the chorale “to pursue other artistic endeavors” and that he has some “exciting opportunities on the horizon.”
He also said that he will continue as minister of music at Kessler Park United Methodist Church, a position he accepted earlier this year, and that he will continue his duties as chief judge of the Dallas Tavern Guild’s 2011 Voice of Pride competition.
Palant said that “making music with” the Kessler Park church is “a new challenge for me, and lots of fun,” and that he enjoys the opportunity Voice of Pride gives him to “promote new talent, hear lots of great singers and spend time with friends.”
In a prepared statement released Thursday afternoon, Palant said of his future plans, “I am excited to be starting a family with my partner, Mark, and academia has never been far from my heart.”
He also repeatedly heaped praise on the chorale, both in his written statement and in his interview with Dallas Voice.
“It has been a true pleasure being the artistic director these past four years and I firmly believe we have made a difference in the lives of many in our Partners in Harmony program, our many musical collaborations both near and far, within the LGBT community and, of course, with and for our local patrons and supporters,” Palant said in the prepared statement. “Each and every contact I have made over these years, in their own way, has changed my life, and I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given. I wish all the best for the Turtle Creek Chorale and its members.”
He also said that the upcoming chorale season will be “fantastic, and I should know because I planned it! I mean, where else can you get ‘Messiah,’ Laura Bush and Madonna all in one season?”
Taylor said he and other board members notified chorale members of Palant’s resignation Monday and then released a statement, shortly before 9 p.m. that night, officially making the news public. Board members then met with chorale members in a “town hall” meeting Tuesday night, giving members the chance to ask any questions and air any concerns they had.
About 80 of the chorale’s current total of 140 to 150 members attended, Taylor said.
“Many of them [chorale members] are grieving right now, and we certainly understand that. This is not where they expected things to go,” Taylor said. “But I feel that by the end of that meeting they all felt like their questions had been answered.
“We are a flexible organization,” he continued. “We are 31 years old. We survived the AIDS crisis. We have only had five artistic directors in 32 seasons. I think that’s pretty unique.
“We are flexible and nimble, and when the season starts, we will be at our best. I think the news has settled in now, and the guys understand that Turtle Creek Chorale is bigger than one person,” Taylor said.
Taylor also said that turnover in the top positions are not an indication of any financial problems for the chorale.
“In fact, we are in the best financial position we have been in in the last 10 years,” Taylor said. “We are now debt-free, and that was not the case when I came on the board four years ago. The credit for that all goes to Stephen Tosha.”
He added that the chorale’s annual fundraising gala, held last month and this year called “Circque,” brought in $100,000,” and that season subscription sales for the 32nd season are “right on target.”
Taylor also noted that he expects the chorale’s financial good health to continue to improve under new executive director David Fisher. Fisher, who takes over the ED position effective Aug. 15, has worked for the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs since 1995.
During his tenure with the city, Fisher managed the Bath House Cultural Center and the Meyerson Symphony Center. While at the Bath House, he created the Festival of Independent Theaters and directed several productions that drew critical acclaim.
Fisher was a member of the 2004 class of Leadership Dallas and earned a masters degree in nonprofit management from the University of Dallas in 2005.
In 2006, Fisher was appointed assistant director of cultural affairs for the city, overseeing operations at all the city’s cultural centers and the city’s grant programs.
He also led the budgeting and administration functions for the department.
Since last year, Fisher has done double duty as assistant director of cultural affairs and interim general manager of radio station WRR Classical 101.1 FM.
Fisher and his longtime partner, Duncan, live in Lake Highlands with their 7-year-old son, Bennett.
“I could not be more thrilled — or grateful — to be joining the Turtle Creek Chorale as its executive director,” Fisher said in a statement released Wednesday evening.
“Since being part of the Meyerson team that helped produce the first ‘Sing for the Cure’ in 1999, I have followed the Turtles with admiration and appreciation. It is an amazing ensemble with an incredible history and, I believe, an incredible future.”
Both Taylor and Fisher acknowledged that the chorale is in the midst of a time of transition, but both also said the chorale will continue to thrive.
“I am so excited to be on the board and part of this organization right now, and we are all so excited to have David join our staff,” Taylor said. “I don’t think the members of the chorale or our patrons and donors see as being in a time of chaos.
“It is a time of transition, yes. But it is an exciting time of transition. We are moving forward, and I see nothing but good things ahead for Turtle Creek Chorale.”