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Rachael Worby resigns after 11 seasons conducting Pasadena Pops

August 11, 2010 |  8:35 pm

Worby Rachael Worby resigned Wednesday as music director of the Pasadena Pops, ending a tenure dating back to 1999. Worby will finish the current season, the Pops’ first in a new lawn venue next to the Rose Bowl, with concerts Saturday and Sept. 25.

Worby said in an interview that her departure bears no resemblance to the contentious episode in May when Jorge Mester exited after 25 years as music director of the Pops’ sister orchestra, the Pasadena Symphony, leading to discord on the organization’s board and anguish in its musician ranks. Officials of the financially struggling orchestras said Mester had resigned; the conductor’s manager said he had been forced out.

Worby's resignation marks “a completely amicable parting, with no resonance at all with any past incidents,” Worby said. “Working with the orchestra has beeen as joyous and rewarding an experience as I could have ever wished. I’m just ready to open the next chapter.”

Chief Executive Paul Jan Zdunek said it’s likely that the Pops in 2010-2011, like the Symphony, will rely on guest conductors rather than trying to hire an interim or permanent successor. That would allow the board to see whether one of the guests proves to be a good match.

“She’s had a great career here, a great tenure,” Zdunek said. With her contract ending and negotiations barely begun over a new one, he said, “she decided this was the time she was going to stop.”

Worby and Mester both took 10% pay cuts last year as the two deficit-ridden orchestras, which merged in 2007, tried to carry out a financial restructuring amid the economic downturn.  Worby, a Pasadena resident, earned $137,000 in 2007-2008, according to the orchestras’ most recent available tax return. She said money was not a factor in her resignation.

Los Angeles audiences will continue to have access to her music-making, although in a much different context:  starting in January, Worby will preside over “Saturday Morning Mash-Ups,” a new children’s concert series at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. She will lead a chamber orchestra, the Angeli Ensemble, in children’s classics augmented by poetry and enactments from the spoken-word duo of Steve Connel and Sekou “Tha Misfit” Andrews.  The idea, Worby said, is to create “wild reinventions” of Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Carnival of the Animals,” Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

Her other ongoing gig is conducting the orchestras for Jessye Norman’s concerts, which involves rehearsing and leading the local musicians who accompany the singer at each tour stop.

Worby said she has been delighted with the Pasadena Pops’ new venue, a lawn next to the Rose Bowl, after years at Descanso Gardens. “The venue is absolutely fantastic. The acoustics on the stage are infinitely better than what we used to have, and everybody in the audience has been raving about the sound.”

Zdunek said that after deficits of $1.7 million and $700,000 in its two most recent seasons, the organization is on track to finish $500,000 in the red this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. A balanced budget “is within striking distance,” he said, and could be achieved if a planned final fundraising push succeeds.

-- Mike Boehm

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Photos: Worby in 2006. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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