TAMPA — After six years at the helm of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, James Bass is stepping down.
Bass has accepted a position as the director of choral studies at the Herb Alpert School of Music at the University of California at Los Angeles. He will lead the chorale in two remaining performances next weekend.
The fourth director in the chorale's 37-year history, he has elevated the singers' profile with more than 60 concerts, including requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms and Gabriel Fauré; Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9; and Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Not to mention five CDs and commissions of new musical works.
"For Tampa Bay, the region, to have a chorus of that level that is 100 percent volunteer based, is absolutely remarkable," said Bass, 42. "I don't have any qualms about saying they are the absolute best symphony chorus south of Atlanta."
Joining the chorale represented a homecoming for Bass, who was born in Thonotosassa and moved with his family to Temple Terrace. An experience in the second grade set the course of his life. On a field trip to Tomlin Junior High in Plant City, he heard what was then called the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony play portions of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
"That experience was the day I thought to myself, 'This is something I absolutely must do,' " Bass said.
He went on to earn bachelor and masters degrees in music from the University of South Florida, then a doctorate in conducting from the University of Miami. He came to the chorale in 2010, succeeding Richard Zielinski. A bass soloist, he continues to perform with Seraphic Fire, a professional chamber choir based in Miami.
While he does not consider himself a drill sergeant, Bass said he has stressed precise entrances and exits — such as those pesky phrases that end with T or S — with singers as a penultimate standard.
"When you look in nature," he said, "and you see that flock of a thousand little birds, little finches and they're flying, it's beautiful. But when you see them make a turn — and all 1,000 birds turn exactly at the same second. Suddenly you are drawn to that. It's mesmerizingly beautiful. I find that precision part of the art of the choral form."
He hopes to promoting choral work to even greater visibility at UCLA.
"I can say without any reservation that my complete and best and most beautiful musical experiences during these six year have been with the Master Chorale," he said.
The chorale was founded in 1979 by USF music professor Robert Summer and has served as the artist-in-residence at the university's school of music ever since. The university will likely appoint in interim director during the 2016-2017 season while searching for a permanent replacement, Bass said.
His final performances with the chorale will be in the Nordic-themed program "Light of the Midnight Sun" with music by Ola Gjeilo, Kim Arnesen and Jake Runestad. Seats remain for the April 29 show at First Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, but reservations are recommended. The show May 1 at the Tampa Museum of Art is full.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.