Five years ago, Janice Chandler gave up a chance at music fame because of her religious beliefs. Today, she is again poised on the threshold of a brilliant career, with her principles intact.


March 31, 1996|By Glenn McNatt

The voice seemed to fill the vast space of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, though the impression was not so much one of great volume as of a spiritual quality transfigured through sound into a palpable presence. The effect was uncanny: high notes to die for, a glorious middle register and creamy low notes that brought to mind the young Leontyne Price.

It was one of the most magical moments of the brilliant concert that opened the 30th-anniversary season of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society last November. The voice, belonging to a 30-year-old, relatively unknown Maryland native named Janice Chandler, created an instant sensation.

Ms. Chandler's dazzling performance as soloist in Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" made concertgoers who had not previously heard the soprano suddenly sit up in their seats and listen intently as the radiant voice emanating from the waiflike woman soared upward as if borne on wings.

Many in the audience recognized at once that they were witnessing a rare talent. But it seemed to have come out of nowhere. Here was a supremely gifted artist obviously operating at the peak of her form. So why were they just hearing her now? Where had the woman been hiding?

The simple answer to that question is given by Mirjam Yardumian, artistic manager for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, who hired Ms. Chandler for her first appearance with the BSO in 1993. "Janice is not motivated by money," Ms. Yardumian says. "For her it's been her religion first, then the music. And, of course, you give up a lot when you take that stand."

Ms. Chandler is a member of the Seventh-day Adventists, a Christian sect that, among other things, prohibits work from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, its Sabbath. The church stricture means that Ms. Chandler may sing religious music on the Sabbath but no secular music like opera.

A professional musician who accepts that kind of limitation on his or her career must be prepared to give up a lot. And give up a lot is just what Janice Chandler did nearly five years ago rather than go against her religious beliefs.

Some observers believe that what she turned down was early fame and lucrative engagements (singers of her caliber can easily earn six-figure incomes). All this she might have had in a career that was virtually handed to her even before she finished her formal studies at Indiana University in 1991.

In the interim, what many music lovers believe is one of the loveliest voices to come along in a generation sank almost

entirely from view. But Ms. Chandler, who never lost faith in her talent or the principles that guided it, is again poised on the threshold of a brilliant career.

World-renowned choral conductor Robert Shaw, guest conducting in Baltimore last October, recognized Ms. Chandler's talent during her performance in a BSO concert of Mozart's Mass in C Minor. Ms. Chandler had come to him by chance -- she was a last-minute replacement for a soloist who had taken ill. The delighted maestro immediately hired her for performances next season with the Atlanta, Minnesota and Cleveland orchestras.

Determined to make her one of the top orchestral soloists in the country, Ms. Chandler's new agent, Laurence Wasserman of Thea Dispeker Management in New York, capitalized on the Shaw momentum.

"With that kind of success, any manager would have gone and called up everyone in the business and said, 'Guess who Robert Shaw engaged?' " Mr. Wasserman says. "And so, of course, Janice has many, many offers now."

It is one of the most remarkable comeback stories in recent memory -- a renaissance made the more poignant because, despite the cynics' assessment, Ms. Chandler fervently believes her choice to remain true to her religious convictions has been vindicated.

"I didn't give up anything," she says. "This talent is given by God; there's no monetary value that can be placed on it. So I don't feel that I could have gone wrong by being true to him first, because I know he knows what's best for me."

Troubled From The Start

In the tightknit world of classical music, agents and artists traditionally have been reluctant to talk about relationships that don't quite work out. But the tale of Ms. Chandler's first foray into the rarefied realm of big-time agents and their famous clients, pieced together from accounts by her former teachers, music directors and the singer's own recollections, is instructive not only for what it says about the music business but also about the painful choices aspiring artists are asked to make in their quest for stardom.

While Ms. Chandler was at Indiana, one of her teachers dropped her name to Ruth Ziemsky and Allan Green, agents for the powerful Columbia Artists Management Inc. in New York, the company that represents such musical superstars as Kathleen Battle and Placido Domingo.

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