When Philadelphia Singers founder and music director Michael Korn died in 1991 at age 44, no one could imagine the group continuing. But it did; in fact, his successor, David Hayes, has now been at the helm longer than Korn was.
And as Hayes clocks more than two decades in the job, he is now asking the board to start envisioning a future without him.
Hayes told his singers Monday night that the 2014-15 season will be his last. A search committee for his successor will be formed, a board member said.
The conductor says his reasons for leaving are two-fold: he thinks having new artistic leadership will benefit the group, and he is finding it harder to piece together guest-conducting orchestral, opera and choral opportunities around his titled jobs.
“I had been for a long time turning down guest conducting engagements. The Singers’ rehearsal schedule is very heavy,” said Hayes, 49.
He recently shifted rehearsals with the Philadelphia Singers Chorale — the larger iteration of the ensemble that includes both volunteer and professional singers — to associate conductor Jonathan Coopersmith for Carmina Burana with the Philadelphia Orchestra so he could accommodate his Opera Memphis debut in Elixir of Love.
In addition to his duties with the Philadelphia Singers, Hayes is music director of the New York Choral Society, director of the Mannes Orchestra and professor of professional practice at Mannes College in New York, and a recent visitor to Indiana University.
Even Philadelphians who think they don’t know his work probably do. He was for a decade cover conductor for the Philadelphia Orchestra, working with Wolfgang Sawallisch and others. He has long been intimately involved at his alma mater, the Curtis Institute of Music, rehearsing the orchestra in advance of visits from guest conductors.
“It’s a love affair,” said Philadelphia Singers longtime board member William B. McLaughlin 3d of Hayes’ tenure. “We’ve been lucky to have someone who lives and breathes the thing.”
But, said Hayes, “20-ish-plus years is an awfully long time in one’s career. I decided they needed an appropriate window of time to look for what they want in their next relationship. “I’ve said for a long time, I have no intention of being the second and last music director of the institution.”