Choral Conductor Paul Salamunovich Dies at 86

Courtesy of Victoria Mihich
Paul Salamunovich

He elevated the L.A. Master Chorale to great heights from 1991-2001 and conducted choral music for such films as “The Godfather,” “Flatliners” and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.”

Paul Salamunovich, a conductor and singer who created and shaped the sound of choral music in America through recordings, live performances, college and university clinics and film scores, has died. He was 86.

Salamunovich died Thursday from multiple complications due to West Nile virus, publicist Libby Huebner announced.

Salamunovich was music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale from 1991-2001, director of choral music at St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood for 60 years until 2009, a music educator who held academic posts at Mount St. Mary’s College and Loyola Marymount University, and an adjunct professor at the USC Thornton School of Music.  

He conducted choral music on the scores for more than 100 films and TV projects, including Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992). His work also can be heard on Flatliners (1990), First Knight (1995), Air Force One (1997), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), The Sum of All Fears (2002), Peter Pan (2003), Angels and Demons (2009) and on the NBC drama ER.

With the choir at St. Charles Borromeo, he recorded five albums of sacred music and was featured on Andy Williams’ 1969 recording of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Salamunovich sang on the soundtracks of such films as Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), How the West Was Won (1962) and The Trouble With Angels (1966). His musical contributions spanned the spectrum from classical, pop and jazz to folk and new age music with such diverse artists as Stan Kenton, Liz Story and Cirque de Soleil.

Salamunovich guest-conducted throughout the world and prepared choirs for such notable conductors as Igor Stravinsky, Robert Shaw, Bruno Walter, Eugene Ormandy, Alfred Wallenstein, Georg Solti, Zubin Mehta, Carlo Maria Giulini, Valery Gergiev and Simon Rattle.

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His death comes in the midst of the Chorale’s 50th anniversary season, which opened with a multimedia retrospective concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles highlighting the signature works associated with each of the four music directors who have led the Chorale since its inception in 1964, including for Salamunovich Gregorian chant, works by Maurice Durufle, Morten Lauridsen’s "O Magnum Mysterium" and the hymn "The Lord Bless You and Keep You."  

His collaboration with Lauridsen resulted in the Chorale’s 1998 Grammy-nominated recording Lux Aeterna and ultimately helped propel Lauridsen to become the most frequently performed American choral composer in modern history.

A protege of legendary choral conductor Roger Wagner, Salamunovich was born June 7, 1927, in Redondo Beach, Calif. Following his graduation from Hollywood High School in 1945, he enlisted in the Navy and served in Pearl Harbor after World War II.

Survivors include his wife of nearly 64 years, Dottie; sons John, Stephen, Joseph and Thomas; brother Joseph; son-in-law Gordon; daughters-in-law Claire, Sheila, Meredith and Nancy; 11 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

A public service is pending.

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