Monica Poling 2017-12-18 03:58:11
Pacific Chorale celebrates its 50th anniversary by looking ahead and finding new musical inspiration. In 1968, Maurice Allard had the idea to stage Felix Mendelssohn’s ambitious work, “Elijah,” at the University of California, Irvine. With no formal choir in place, Allard held auditions, expecting about 100 singers to attend. When more than twice that number showed up, Allard knew he was onto something, and a new chorale was formed, filling a void in the community. Now, nearly 50 years later, with a new artistic director, the chorale’s future is as bright as ever. And, while it would be easy to rely on themes of reflection or gratitude to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of one of the longest-running performing arts organizations in Orange County, Pacific Chorale has instead opted for a forward-thinking theme for its momentous 2017-2018 season: “What Inspires You”—a nod to the innovative and multimedia programming that’s to come, this year and beyond. Successful Singers Of course, such a monumental birthday is worthy of a little celebration of the past, too. It is remarkable, after all, that a small group of singers in the late 1960s would form what is, today, an award-winning chorus with an annual budget of nearly $2 million. While the chorale started out as a branch of UCI, it quickly earned its rights in 1969 as an independent entity with a brand-new name: the Irvine Master Chorale. It was able to establish itself so quickly because of its incredibly strong core group of singers, its supportive audience and community and, of course, its initial leaders. When Allard left the group in 1972, John Alexander stepped in to manage the artistic vision. It would be 45 years before the group would see another change in leadership. (Notably, at the start of Alexander’s tenure, the chorale was operating with an annual budget of just $10,000). Today, Pacific Chorale—which was renamed again in 1981—has made a permanent home as one of the resident companies of Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. “Most of our singers have masters or doctorates in music,” says Elizabeth Pearson, president and CEO of Pacific Chorale. “They are very well-educated in performance and in knowing how to read music.” And these credentials are evident in the group’s successes thus far. Under Alexander’s leadership, the choir racked up a litany of accolades, including more than 30 premieres around the world, 13 international tours to almost 20 different countries and 14 self-produced recordings. It performed in concert halls spanning the globe, under such noted, world-renowned conductors as Zubin Mehta, John Mauceri, Michael Tilson Thomas, Gustavo Dudamel and John Williams. Pacific Chorale also won the Chorus America/ASCAP Alice Parker Award in 2005, which, according to its website, recognizes a member chorus each year for “programming significant, recently composed music that expands the mission of the chorus and challenges the chorus’s audience in a new way.” In addition to guiding artistry at an incredibly high level, Alexander was also known for introducing groundbreaking works by California composers, both of which are standards that current Artistic Director Robert Istad—who took over as the group’s leader in July and whose inaugural season is serendipitously timed with Pacific Chorale’s 50th anniversary—is more than equipped to continue to meet. Focusing on the Future While transition can sometimes be difficult for an established arts organization, Istad is no stranger to this ensemble, having served as its assistant conductor since 2004. Prior to joining Pacific Chorale, Istad was also a protege and student of Alexander’s while at California State University, Fullerton, where he earned his Master of Music degree in choral conducting. “He had been working with us for more than 10 years and they love him,” Pearson says of the singers’ feelings about Istad. “The artistic integrity will be maintained.” Istad also serves as a music professor and director of choral studies at Cal State Fullerton, where he enjoys the opportunity to mentor the next generation of chorale performers. This is a role that Istad guards carefully, since his own first passion was not necessarily ensemble performance. “I went to college as [a] pre-med [student] on a piano scholarship,” Istad says. “When I showed up, they told me, ‘You’re going to have to sing.’ I was totally angry,” he jokes. “I got thrown in the choir.” But it didn’t take long for the supremely talented musician to learn that choral music was a natural fit. “By the third rehearsal, I was totally mesmerized,” he says. “I had played in a lot of bands, but I had never experienced the beauty of all those people singing together.” Eventually, his education brought him to Cal State Fullerton, where he met and had the opportunity to study under Alexander, setting in motion his fate as the future artistic director of Pacific Chorale. And, while the two men share a similar artistic vision and roots, Istad says he is looking forward to making his own mark on the choir. “[John] is my friend and colleague,” he says. “But I also have my own ideas about what is exciting about chorale music.” For one thing, Istad says he feels a little more connected to younger composers. And one of the first changes that he made in directing Pacific Chorale was bringing in Grammy-nominated British composer Tarik O’Regan, who will turn 40 in January, to serve as a composer-in-residence for three years. “Tarik is a close friend of mine,” Istad says. “He’s one of the leading composers in the world.” O’Regan has already wowed Orange County audiences with his recent U.S. premiere of “A Celestial Map of the Sky.” The concert helped to kick off Pacific Chorale’s 50th anniversary season on Oct. 29. And there is much more to come in the way of anniversary festivities and special performances. Looking ahead, Pacific Chorale has a holiday program on the books, in addition to the “Carols by Candlelight” event, which took place Dec. 2. “Tis the Season,” which features the Southern California Children’s choir, takes the stage Dec. 17 and 18 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. “This is our big pop holiday concert, performed with Pacific Symphony,” Istad says. “We have 150 people singing everything from ‘Ave Maria’ to Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You.’ ” Future highlights are plentiful, including the March 10 presentation of “St. John Passion,” with Bach’s music to fill Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, followed by Pacific Chorale’s first appearance at Carnegie Hall in April. Then, on May 19, the chorale will perform “Music of the Golden State,” which includes an evocative piece by composer and DJ Mason Bates, retelling the story of one of the first international radio transmissions that connected family members on opposite sides of the world in the 1920s, utilizing choir, organ and electronics. For Istad, taking the helm of Pacific Chorale during its 50th anniversary celebration is an event that has occurred at exactly the right time. “Choral music is huge right now,” he says. “Thousands of kids around Orange County and Southern California are coming out to hear professional choir music. It’s a real privilege to inspire them to sing.” FOLLOW PACIFIC CHORALE TO CARNEGIE HALL On April 21, Pacific Chorale and Pacific Symphony will appear at Carnegie Hall for the first time, as part of the venue’s yearlong celebration of Philip Glass’ 80th birthday. A highlight of the event will be a rendition of Glass’ “The Passion of Ramakrishna”; this New York premiere will revive the piece that Pacific Symphony performed with Pacific Chorale for the opening of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in 2006. Pacific Chorale is offering a friends-and-family special for fans who wish to join the group in New York. The package includes a four-night stay for two at Le Parker Meridien hotel, attendance at two VIP receptions and tickets to the April 21 concert. (714-662-2345; pacificchorale.org) arts agenda VISIT CULTURAL VENUES IN AND AROUND THE REGION THIS SEASON FOR THE LATEST IN CREATIVE ENTERTAINMENT. “The Nutcracker” THROUGH DEC. 17; SEGERSTROM CENTER FOR THE ARTS, COSTA MESA Set to Tchaikovsky’s beloved score, performed by Pacific Symphony, more than 100 performers take the stage to retell the classic holiday tale of Clara and her Nutcracker. With a combination of the iconic music; American Ballet Theatre, one of the country’s premier ballet companies; and sets and costumes by Tony Award-winning designer Richard Hudson, it’s no wonder that this show has become a timeless local holiday tradition. (714-556-2787; scfta.org) “Motown the Musical” DEC. 19-24; SEGERSTROM CENTER FOR THE ARTS, COSTA MESA With a score that includes more than 40 beloved Motown favorites, such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the celebrated “Motown the Musical” tells the tale of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s meteoric rise to music industry mogul. (714-556-2787; scfta.org) “See Jane Sing” JAN. 12; IRVINE BARCLAY THEATRE, IRVINE Known for playing the role of Sue Sylvester on the popular TV series “Glee,” and for her Broadway performance as Miss Hannigan in “Annie,” Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning actress Jane Lynch brings her comedic and musical talents to Orange County in this must-see, hilarious show. (949-854-4646; thebarclay.org) Royal Philharmonic with Jean-Yves Thibaudet JAN. 25; SEGERSTROM CENTER FOR THE ARTS, COSTA MESA A dazzling musical event with the London-based Royal Philharmonic includes Respighi’s symphonic poem, “Fountains of Rome,” and Stravinsky’s “Petrushka.” Then, joined by Grammy-nominated pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, they perform Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5, titled “Egyptian.” (714-556-2787; scfta.org) THE PLAY’S THE THING “Shakespeare in Love” JAN. 13 - FEB. 10; SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, COSTA MESA Based on the popular screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, “Shakespeare in Love” chronicles the trials and tribulations of a young William Shakespeare, who suffers from writer’s block and simultaneously falls in love. (714-708-5555; scr.org) “The Octette Bridge Club” JAN. 26 - FEB. 25; NEWPORT THEATRE ARTS CENTER Directed by David Motroni and set in Providence, R.I., this play explores the interwoven lives of eight Irish sisters, who meet every other Friday evening over the span of a decade to play cards and catch up. Each sister, of course, has her own personality and pitfalls. (949-631-0288; ntaconline.com) ON DISPLAY “Shi Zhiying” THROUGH DEC. 31; ORANGE COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART Shanghai-based artist Shi Zhiying presents her first solo museum exhibition in the U.S. with pieces that explore how Buddhism and the natural world have influenced her work. (949-759- 1122; ocma.net) “The Science of Gingerbread” THROUGH DEC. 31; DISCOVERYCUBE ORANGE COUNTY, SANTA ANA The iconic holiday treat becomes a scientific experiment in this innovative exhibit, which returns this year for its 12th iteration. Young contestants use math, engineering, kitchen skills and artistry as they compete to build the best gingerbread structure. (714-542-2823; oc.discoverycube.org) “California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820-1930” THROUGH JAN. 14; LAGUNA ART MUSEUM, LAGUNA BEACH This exhibition comprises pieces that explore the region’s long history and geographic roots, from scenes of mission and ranch life to the emergence of a cross-border modern art scene. The exhibit is part of the Getty’s ambitious “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” initiative, an exploration of Latin American and Latino art as it pertains to Los Angeles, taking place at more than 70 arts institutions across Southern California. (949-494-8971; lagunaartmuseum.org) “Endurance: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley” THROUGH JAN. 28; BOWERS MUSEUM, SANTA ANA A century after Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew undertook the Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917), photographs captured by Frank Hurley during that time capture the epic journey of survival and remain some of the greatest records of such a tale. Scanned from the Royal Geographical Society’s original glass plate and celluloid negatives, visitors can relive the harrowing expedition in great detail. (714-567-3600; bowers.org)
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