Jeff Buhrman is going out with a bang — his final show with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, where he’s been artistic director for the last 13 years and involved with for more than 25, will be “A Gay Man’s Guide to Broadway” at the Kennedy Center in May.
The Chorus announced his impending departure last week. He will remain artistic director emeritus through the end of 2014. A search committee has just formed to find his successor, which, in a perfect world, they’d like to have in place by summer, though they’re not rushing.
“We’ll see how it goes,” says Chase Maggiano, in his first year as the Chorus’s executive director. “We could imagine having an interim director if we feel the need to, but we’ll see.”
It’s a time of significant change for the Chorus. Maggiano succeeded David Jobin last year. Emery Grant, former director of marketing and communications, also left last year. Long-time choreographer Craig Cipollini has been doing more marketing work in recent months. The Chorus, whose membership varies between about 225 and 250 singers, employs four full-time employees and two part time. It has an annual operating budget of about $1.1 million. It’s in its 33rd season.
Everyone involved says Buhrman will leave big shoes to fill.
“I heard the Chorus several times back in the ‘80s and ‘90s and then went through a period between about 2000 and 2007 where I didn’t,” says Mark Hegedus, a member since 2008. “I heard them again in 2007 and was really blown away by the musicality of the ensemble. That’s what convinced me to audition. I could just really hear how much improvement there had been under Jeff Buhrman’s leadership.”
“I have only worked with him a short time but he and I get along really well,” Magianno says. “He has a strong personal connection with the singers and has kept the music at a really high level. He’s definitely set the bar very high.”
Thea Kano, a straight ally and the Chorus’s associate music director (she also directs the Rock Creek Singers, a smaller ensemble of GMCW singers), says she and Buhrman have enjoyed “an absolute partnership.”
“We’ve joked since day one we must have been separated at birth,” Kano says. “Our priorities at any given rehearsal may be slightly different — his number one might be my number three or something — but at the end of the day we’ve always had the same vision and it’s been a phenomenal partnership. … I’m not sure how rare that is, but it’s definitely been a gift.”
The only person not saying much about the decision is Burhman himself. When reached by phone, he asked for time to consider how he wanted to answer questions then did not return follow-up calls. A press release issued by the Chorus last week did not address Burhman’s reasons for stepping down.
“I think maybe he and his husband, Roger, want to try some different things,” Hegedus says. “I certainly get that.”
Maggiano says it’s a good time for the Chorus to think about where it wants to go next. The Chorus has always seen itself as advocates for LGBT rights — simply a group that spreads its message in musical ways.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations … about what it might be like to expand our direction and really be a voice of equality for all communities,” he says. “That doesn’t mean we’ll be any less gay. But being gay is not a big deal anymore in a place like Washington so I could imagine ways we could play that up more and have fun with it. It’s a great opportunity for us.”