A Tribute to John Alexander cover

A Tribute to John Alexander

By


During his long and distinguished career, Alexander has conducted hundreds of performances of choirs and orchestras in 27 countries, receiving an abundance of praise.
Under his tutelage, Pacific Chorale—with its anchor of 24 professional vocalists (the John Alexander Singers) and power core of 150 singers—has become one of America’s great choirs.
BY JAYCE KEANE





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A Tribute to John Alexander

It’s been a long goodbye, yet not long enough. When the news broke that John Alexander, artistic director of Pacific Chorale since 1972, was stepping down in two years, a reverberation of dread ran through Orange County. This was the man synonymous with the sound of the human voice at its most staggering.

Aside from his “home” at the Chorale, Alexander had become a fixture for the community at large, and nowhere has his impending absence had a bigger impact than at Pacific Symphony or with Music Director Carl St. Clair, who says Alexander has “complemented and blessed” his life.

“It’s not easy talking about my feelings and connection with John Alexander,” admits St. Clair. “It’s so very special. Having a friend, musical confidant, colleague, great human being—wise and good spirited—all in the same person is rare. But, John was just that during our 27 years of working together. Many of the most memorable musical experiences have involved John and Pacific Chorale. They would be too numerous to name, but each remains at the heart of who I am as a person and musician, and a meaningful part of Pacific Symphony’s notable history.”

It was meant to be. Alexander’s father was a choral conductor, along with no less than a dozen uncles, aunts and cousins who’d had careers as choral conductors.

Alexander was just 27 when he joined Pacific Chorale. He says: “In my younger days, I decided that I would retire at 65 (which seemed very old at the time). When I turned 65, I said I would retire at 70. (I also missed that deadline!) Now, at 72, and after 44 years in this position, I decided I should no longer procrastinate regarding this matter!”

During his long and distinguished career, Alexander has conducted hundreds of performances of choirs and orchestras in 27 countries, receiving an abundance of praise.

Under his tutelage, Pacific Chorale—with its anchor of 24 professional vocalists (the John Alexander Singers) and power core of 150 singers—has become one of America’s great choirs.

Exercising a musical flexibility that spans classical masterpieces and contemporary works to jazz, pop and folk—there is nothing this multi-award winning chorus can’t do. But when Alexander began his career with Pacific Chorale, there was no professional symphony in Orange County—Pacific Symphony did not exist.

This was a serious problem for him, as the canon of works he was determined to program required symphonic forces as well as singers. Around the late ’80s, Alexander decided it was probably time to pursue a career move, as it was customary for artistic directors to ‘move on’ after 10 years with an organization. He was already past that deadline.

“But Carl’s arrival had a major impact,” Alexander says. “He shared my love for the choral/orchestral literature and wanted to include as many choral works as possible in the Symphony’s season. This meant Pacific Chorale’s potential for artistic growth was phenomenal—far beyond what we could produce in our own season.

“For me, this became a partnership made in heaven. We have become over the years not just co-collaborators, but have developed a close friendship that I deeply treasure.” Alexander says that partnership became a major factor in his decision to devote most of his professional career to creating music in Orange County.

Today, the Pacific Chorale is among the top 10 budgeted choruses in the nation. Alexander has commissioned new works, experimented with concert formats, and the Chorale has starred in more than 20 commercial recordings.

St. Clair says: “John’s dedication to building strong and lasting musical traditions here at home has served as a model for my work and inspired me to do the very same. The length of his tenure and his tireless energy can only be a result of his love for his singers and his commitment to Orange County.”

But the torch will soon be passed and the Chorale will sing on. Alexander hasn’t been worried about the Chorale since Robert Istad, who has worked under him for the last 12 years as assistant conductor, was named his successor. Whether there or not, Alexander’s spirit and legacy is certain to rise with the multitude of glorious voices, reminding all of this very talented and loved man.

“How can you appropriately thank one who has touched countless thousands of lives, hearts and minds?” asks St. Clair. “Only one way—ensure that what he has built never wanes or suffers, but continues on the path that John has so clearly defined.”

To learn more about the Pacific Chorale, please click here.