A beloved holiday tradition, Handel’s celebrated oratorio—with its blazing trumpets, thundering timpani and spectacular “Hallelujah!” chorus—provides a moment during the busy season to experience reflection, renewal and joy.
John Alexander, guest conductor
Clara Rottsolk, soprano
Jane Hyun-Jung Shim, mezzo-soprano
Jason Francisco, tenor
Timothy Jones, bass-baritone
Pacific Chorale — Robert Istad, artistic director
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An Oratorio by George Frideric Handel
The Words selected from Holy Scripture by Charles Jennens
JOHN ALEXANDER • CONDUCTOR
CLARA ROTTSOLK • SOPRANO
JANE SHIM • MEZZO-SOPRANO
JASON FRANCISCO • TENOR
TIMOTHY JONES • BASS-BARITONE
ROBERT ISTAD • ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
LORI LOFTUS • GUEST HARPSICHORD
This performance of Messiah is generously sponsored by Kelly and Tom Olds.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) Messiah, HWV 56
George Frideric Handel, 1685 - 1759
Instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, timpani, harpsichord, organ, strings, chorus: soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass soloists
Performance time: 2 hours
The Glory of the Lord Shall Be Revealed
Sometimes music seems as necessary as the air we breathe. The founders of the modern-day Czech Republic went without sleep, but not without music. We, too, need its restorative powers to remind us that in a world that ambushes us with change, the important things stay the same. Small wonder we reserve the inspiration of Handel’s oratorio Messiah for the Christmas season, when days are darkest. That’s when we need it most.
Evergreen beauty and abundant, dramatically expressive melodies are the main reasons why Handel’s Messiah has become the most popular oratorio in the world by far. But it is also a musical marathon that challenges orchestra, soloists, and—perhaps most of all—choral singers. The melismas are treacherous and the vocal lines are gasp- inducingly long.
When he composed Messiah, Handel’s career as an opera composer was floundering, and he had turned to oratorios as a more financially viable form. It was not a long leap, since both forms drew on religious themes and biblical texts.
But Messiah was immediately recognized as something special. Papa Haydn, always generous in praising the merits of other composers, called Handel “der Meister von uns allen,” “the master of us all,” at a performance of Messiah. Beethoven, who was far more grudging with his approval, used almost the same words—“der unerreichte Meister aller Meisters,” “the unequalled master of all masters,” to describe the composer of Messiah.
Always concerned with dramatic intensity and profound ideas, Beethoven added, “Go and learn from him how to achieve vast effects with simple means.” Messiah is certainly rich with them, along with insistent rhythms that are characteristic of the Baroque era, easy to love and hard to forget.
“What the English like is something that they can beat time to, something that hits them straight on the drum of the ear,” writes Handel biographer Richard Alexander Streatfeild. Today Messiah still bangs us straight on the drum of the ear, inspiring reinterpretations in swing, rap and jazz styles.
Master of both sacred and secular music, Handel was born in 1685, at the height of the Baroque era. He was a native of Germany, but his early travels included Italy, where he assimilated the Italian styles of operatic composition before settling in England.
Successful in all vocal and instrumental music forms, he was the English court’s go-to composer for the nation’s most important ceremonial music. His gifts seem to converge in Messiah, with its endlessly expressive melodies and towering drama so perfectly suited to expressing the story and the glory of Christ’s birth.
Although Messiah was originally composed for performance during Lent, it has been universally adopted as a musical high point of the Advent season. For Handel himself and for millions of listeners, it is not only a thrilling entertainment but also a deep expression of religious faith that sounds new no matter how many times it is heard.
Handel famously described the process of composing the “Hallelujah” chorus as the heavens opening up to him. Yet Messiah was also a commercial imperative for him. He composed it at a time when he was in need of a major success: he had enjoyed a hugely successful run writing and producing his own operas, but the public taste for his operas was fading.
"The Chandos portrait of Georg Friedrich Händel" by James Thornhill, c. 1720
Having already written operas on sacred themes, he turned to the unstaged oratorio form. Messiah is the foremost example of what became known as the English oratorio, which combines religious texts with elements of intense drama, sometimes in ways hard to distinguish from opera. Most of them combine biblical and non-biblical texts, though Messiah is drawn entirely from the Bible.
Composition of Messiah was completed within 24 days, a breakneck pace for so expansive a work. The text was provided by Charles Jennens, drawn mainly from the biblical books of Isaiah and the gospel of St. Matthew—a selection that, according to some sources, reflected Jennens’ and possibly even Handel’s anti-establishment political leanings.
After all, who but a radical egalitarian would so potently emphasize Isaiah’s prophecy that “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low?” Still, a message of straightforward religious inspiration was overriding for Handel and remains so for his audiences.
There are many traditional accounts of seemingly divine inspiration as he worked. In one, his assistant walked into the room where he was composing after shouting to him for minutes on end with no response. He supposedly found Handel in tears, pen in hand, and asked what was wrong. “I thought I saw the face of God,” Handel said.
The immediate popularity of Handel’s Messiah made it an instant tradition in England and elsewhere, and annual performances gradually moved from Eastertide to the Christmas season. By 1784, Messiah performances at events such as the Handel Centenary Commemoration were commonplace, often drawing together huge choral and orchestral forces.
Image by David Beale
As an impresario, Handel was accustomed to tailoring his works for specific performers and production circumstances, and various editions of Messiah existed even within his lifetime. He also expected soloists to interpolate vocal ornamentations as appropriate, a practice that reappeared during the bel canto revival that began during the 1960s.
---You Tube doesn't share the info, but the director is Vaclav Lucs, and that fabulous alto is Delphine Galou. The group is Collegium 1704, in Prague.
What to Listen For
Whether you are singing along or just listening, Messiah is an experience of beauty that is deeply participative. It opens with a stately symphonia with a pace like that of a slow, halting march. This sets a tone of solemn importance that frames even the most joyful passages to come.
What follows is a full evening’s worth of music in three sections. In all there are more than 50 separate numbers, typically choral songs alternating with solos for individual soprano, alto, tenor or bass voice. Together they present a version of the Christian story of the “messiah,” or “anointed one,” from the annunciation and birth through the crucifixion and resurrection.
Despite the commercial considerations that were never far from Handel’s mind, Messiah is first and foremost an expression of faith. By combining majestic beauty and grandeur of scale with humble sincerity, Messiah has gained a household familiarity that is rare among classical compositions.
At the most basic level, Messiah is an adaptation in music of the biblical accounts of the birth of Christ, a religious story sung by a chorus and/or soloists accompanied by an orchestra and/or an organ. The choral forces are usually the familiar four-part SATB mix—soprano, alto, tenor, bass—that you know if you sang chorus in high school or in church.
There is also a natural comparison between this work and the large-scale oratorios of Bach, the other supreme master of the Baroque era. Like Handel, Bach was born in 1685, and both were pious men. But they approached oratorio in opposite ways: where Bach saw religion and the glory of God’s creation in every detail of daily life, Handel was a man of the world and of the theater. He enjoyed his success, wrote operas that were some of the most sensational entertainments of the day, and became one of the most famous men in Europe.
The sheer theatricality of Messiah contributed greatly to its success, and still does. Though not staged, it is religion made theater.
Its drama and beauty flow first from its beautiful melodies, which inspire us while capturing the revelatory emotions described in the text. But they also gain extraordinary intensity through the Baroque compositional technique of “word painting,” in which the flow of notes in the music actually seems to replicate a shape or contour that the notes describe. One frequently cited example of word painting occurs early in Part I, in the tenor aria “Every valley shall be exalted.”
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill made low
The crooked, straight
And the rough places plain.
On the word “mountain,” the tenor’s voice rises to a high F#, creating a literal peak of sound; then it drops by an octave, showing how the mountain is made low. On “crooked,” the melodic line vacillates between the jagged C# and the straight B, coming to rest on the straight B. Similarly, the word “exalted” is raised up by an octave in its final syllable.
Messiah teems with effects like these, which deepen our experience of the text with almost palpable realism. For example, slightly later in Part I, in the chorus “And He shall purify,” note the way the articulations on the word “purify” leap like the flames of the refiner’s fire in the text.
The effect of word painting can even focus on a single syllable—as when, two choruses later in “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” the alto soloist leaps up a fourth on the word “up”: “get thee up unto the high mountains.”
For many listeners, a climactic and favorite painterly effect is the heavenly fluttering of wings when angels appear to the shepherds by night, as conveyed by arpeggios in the strings: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying…”
This moment, which forms a dramatic climax about two-thirds of the way through Part I, is as graphic and immediate as a movie; think of Handel’s score as the CGI of its day.
Among dozens of additional examples, favorites include:
“Glory to God on high…and peace on earth.” The words “Glory to God on high” are literally high in tone, giving us a heaven’s-ear perspective on the text sung by sopranos and altos; “and peace on earth” takes us back down to the earthly realm, sun in the lower registers of the tenors and basses.
“Let us break their bonds asunder” is sung with broken phrasing and staccato, detached notes.
“Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world:” the harmonic ambiguity and pain of complex minor chords, representing sin, are taken away with a harmonic resolution that opens into a clear major cadence.
“And with His stripes we are healed:” The stripes, which are wounds Christ has endured, are exposed in counterpoint, one after another, intensifying the sense of repeated lashings.
For all of its vividness, Handel’s mastery of word painting accounts for just part of the dramatic impact of Messiah. It combines with his gift for melody and a sympathetic understanding of psychology that appeals to us in a way that is less literal, but more deeply human.
When we hear the soprano soloist singing “Come unto Him, all ye that … are heavy laden,” who can fail to take comfort at the tenderness of her vocal line? Equally intense are the passages of joyful anticipation and of triumph, as in the prophecy expressed in “For unto Us” and in the glorious “Hallelujah” chorus, which so overwhelmed Handel’s contemporary audiences that, we are told, they spontaneously rose to their feet in awe—a tradition that persists to this day in many parts of the world.
Today, there is no definitive performing edition or single “correct” approach to performing Messiah, and every conductor who leads it must make critical decisions in order to do so. But those decisions are informed by the living traditions that we all enjoy as listeners, and by the work of Handel scholars and performers.
For example, the soprano aria “Rejoice greatly” exists in both 4/4 and 6/8 tempos, each with its own unique appeal; the 4/4 version is graceful and dignified, while the 6/8 version dances with joy.
Behind the poetry and the drama of such stories, Handel’s Messiah continues to exert a very real influence upon modern composers. Take, for example, Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. Composed in 1971, it brings together music, dance, and diverse religious and secular traditions in a way that owes much to Handel’s and Jennens’ highly unconventional libretto, which defied contemporary expectations for the text of an oratorio.
And Bernstein is not the only one. Could Benjamin Britten have found the form or the audience for his profound War Requiem without the ubiquity of Handel’s Messiah? In general, the continued fascination of the oratorio form for modern composers owes much to Messiah’s evergreen popularity.
Andrew Lloyd Webber—like Handel, a master of theatrical craft in music—wrote a requiem mass as his only full-scale classical work. Paul McCartney, too, ventured into oratorio with his only classical work, The Liverpool Oratorio—an eight-movement opus that traces the life of a character named Shanty, based loosely on McCartney himself.
These works could hardly vary more widely in their style or substance. Yet without the continuing popularity of Handel’s groundbreaking oratorio Messiah, they would probably not exist.
One more small point: why throughout this note do I refer to the oratorio as Messiah? Is the title not “The Messiah”? Scholars agree that the original designation was simply Messiah, and this title is considered historically accurate.
But over the many generations that it has been performed, many published versions of the score— including the one in my own music library—are marked “The Messiah” on the title page. Then again, in conversation and in print, “Handel’s Messiah” is a common reference. Take your pick; all of these usages are acceptable, and none will ever be mistaken for any other work.
Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor-in- chief for The Santa Fe Opera.
Meet The Conductor
John Alexander is one of America’s most respected choral conductors. His inspired leadership both on the podium and as an advocate for the advancement of the choral art has garnered national and international admiration and acclaim.
Alexander’s long and distinguished conducting career has encompassed hundreds of choral and orchestral performances nationally and in 27 countries around the globe. He has conducted his singers with orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, the former Soviet Union and South America and, within his own Southern California community, with Pacific Symphony, Pasadena Symphony, Musica Angelica and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
Alexander is equally proficient behind the scenes, having prepared choruses for many of the world’s most outstanding orchestral conductors, including Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez, Seiji Ozawa, Michael Tilson Thomas, Leonard Slatkin, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Gustavo Dudamel, Lukas Foss, Max Rudolf, Carl St.Clair, Gerard Schwarz, Marin Alsop, John Mauceri, John Williams and Keith Lockhart.
Alexander is the Artistic Director Emeritus of Pacific Chorale, having served as Artistic Director and Conductor from 1972 to 2017. Under his direction, the organization grew to become one of the foremost symphonic choirs in the nation, enjoying thirteen international tours throughout Europe, Asia and South America; establishing productive artistic partnerships with Pacific Symphony and Segerstrom Center for the Arts; performing dozens of world and United States premieres; and releasing numerous recordings.
Alexander is nationally recognized for his leadership in the musical and organizational development of the performing arts. He is a board member and former president of Chorus America, the service organization for choruses in North America. Alexander also has served on artistic review panels for national, statewide and local arts organizations, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.
Alexander holds the title of Professor Emeritus at California State University, Fullerton, where he taught as Director of Choral Studies from 1996 to 2006. From 1970 to 1996, he held the same position at California State University, Northridge.
Today Alexander continues his involvement in the pre-professional training of choral conductors. He is in demand as a teacher, clinician, and adjudicator in festivals, seminars and workshops across the United States. In 2003, Chorus America honored him with the establishment of the “John Alexander Conducting Faculty Chair” for their national conducting workshops.
A proponent of contemporary American music, Alexander is noted for the strong representation of American works and composers in his programming. He has conducted many premieres of works by composers such as Jake Heggie, Morten Lauridsen, Eric Whitacre, Frank Ticheli and James Hopkins. Alexander is also a composer of many works and serves as the editor of the John Alexander Choral Series with Hinshaw Music, as well as the John Alexander Singers Choral Series with Pavane Publishing.
His numerous tributes and awards include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the ACDA, Western Division (2016); the “Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art” from Chorus America (2008); The “Distinguished Faculty Member” award from California State University, Fullerton (2006); the Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award (2003), presented in honor of his lifetime achievement as an artistic visionary in the development of the arts in Orange County; the “Outstanding Individual Artist” Award (2000) from Arts Orange County; the “Gershwin Award” (1990), presented by the county of Los Angeles in recognition of his cultural leadership in that city; and the “Outstanding Professor” Award (1976) from California State University, Northridge.
Meet The Guest Artists
Clara Rottsalk - Soprano
"Pure and shining" (Cleveland Plain Dealer) soprano Clara Rottsalk has been lauded by The New York Times for her "clear appealing voice and expressive conviction" and by The Philadelphia Inquirer for the “opulent tone [with which] every phrase has such a communicative emotional presence.” In a repertoire extending from the Renaissance to the contemporary, her solo appearances with orchestras and chamber ensembles have taken her across the United States, the Middle East, Japan and South America.
She specializes in historically informed performance practice, singing with ensembles including American Bach Soloists, Tempesta di Mare, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Les Délices, Pacific MusicWorks, St. Thomas Church 5th Avenue, Virginia Symphony, Atlanta Baroque, Santa Fe Pro Musica, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Piffaro—The Renaissance Wind Band, Colorado Bach Ensemble, Trinity Wall Street Choir, Seraphic Fire, New Mexico Symphonic Chorus, ARTEK and the Masterwork Chorus under the direction of conductors including Joshua Rifkin, Bruno Weil, Paul Goodwin, Jeffrey Thomas, John Scott, David Effron and Andrew Megill.
Her recordings include Myths and Allegories, French Baroque cantatas with Les Délices and “supple and stylish … and unflaggingly attractive” (Gramophone Magazine) Scarlatti Cantatas with Tempesta di Mare on the Chandos-Chaconne label. Due out this winter is a recording of new compositions by Rachel Matthews, including three songs set to Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry. A native of Seattle, Rottsolk earned her music degrees at Rice University and Westminster Choir College and was awarded for musical excellence by the Metropolitan Opera National Council (Northwest region). Currently she is based in Philadelphia.
Jane Hyun-Jung Shim: Mezzo-soprano
Mezzo-soprano Jane Hyun-Jung Shim, a native of Korea, is a returning soloist of Messiah. She is known for rich, clear and sensitive singing. Shim studied at California State University, Fullerton. While in school, she was coached as a soprano and has performed many soprano solo roles. She also has won several competitions while in school. Shim is now a familiar face to Orange County chorale music audiences as a mezzo-soprano. She joined Pacific Chorale and John Alexander Singers in 1999, and has appeared as a mezzo-soprano soloist in many works, including Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Duruflé’s Requiem, Verdi’s La Traviata, Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, Stravinsky’s Les Noces, Bach’s Magnificat, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass and Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
She has been a featured soloist with Pacific Symphony, LA Philharmonic Orchestra, Long Beach Symphony, Pasadena Symphony, Musica Angelica, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, Pacific Chorale, John Alexander Singers, Chorus America Conducting Academy, Long Beach Camerata Singers, Dallas Korean Master Chorale, Angeles Chorale, S. CA Korean Christian Choir, Hour of Power, CSUF University Singers and Azusa Pacific University.
Shim’s international performances includes European premiere of Jake Heggie’s He Will Gather Us Around (from Dead Man Walking) at St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest and Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church of St. Jerome) in Vienna. She has also performed at Matthias Church in Budapest, Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) in Vienna, St Sulpice, St Etienne du Mont, St Louis en l’Île and La Madeleine in Paris. Her beautiful solo work of Duruflé’s Requiem with Pacific Chorale’s Choral Festival 2011 has taken her to Église St-Étienne-du-Mont where Duruflé was a predecessor. Shim is currently an alto section leader of Pacific Chorale, a staff singer at Hour of Power Choir, and a conductor and music director of Il-Shin Presbyterian Church in Buena Park.
Jason Francisco: Tenor
Tenor Jason Francisco has appeared in numerous solo roles, including performances with the Pacific Chorale, Pacific Symphony, Musica Angelica, Corona Del Mar Baroque Festival and the John Alexander Singers. Major solo roles have included performances of Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Handel’s Messiah, Finzi’s For Saint Cecilia, Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio and Scarlatti’s Messa di Santa Cecilia. He can also be heard as soloist on the soundtrack of the film 186 Dollars to Freedom.
This fall, Francisco accepted a position as a singer with the Los Angeles Opera and has appeared in that company’s productions of Bizet’s Carmen and Verdi’s Nabucco. In February, he will sing with the San Diego Opera in their production of Puccini’s Turandot. Francisco began his musical career as a saxophonist and holds a bachelor of music degree from California State University, Fullerton and a master of music degree from the University of Southern California.
His principal vocal studies have been with three of Southern California’s most outstanding vocal coaches, currently with Patrick Goeser, and formerly with Mark Goodrich and Karl Snider. Francisco resides in Laguna Beach and has served as the tenor soloist and section leader at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Rancho Santa Margarita since 2010.
Timothy Jones: Bass-baritone
American bass-baritone Timothy Jones enjoys a reputation as a charismatic presence on operatic and concert stages throughout the United States, Europe and South America. The Boston Globe hailed his voice as “stentorian and honeyed,” and the Chicago Tribune called his “complete connection with the text extraordinary.” The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review praised him for his theatricality, noting that he “relished the dramatic possibilities of the songs’ text and music.”
His eagerly anticipated performances combine intelligent musicianship, commanding vocal technique and a unique ability to connect with audiences. Jones is widely celebrated as an enthusiastic champion of new and contemporary music, and has premiered works by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts. Most recently, he offered several performances of Puts’ chamber music piece, In at the Eye, based on poems by William Butler Yates, which Mr. Puts wrote for Jones.
A distinguished concert performer, Jones has soloed with the Cleveland Orchestra singing Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. He has also performed with Boston Baroque, Baltimore Symphony, St. Petersburg Chamber Orchestra, Austin Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Dallas Symphony, Houston Symphony, New Mexico Symphony, New Haven Symphony, Portland Symphony, Saginaw Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Utah Symphony, Wichita Symphony Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony. His repertoire includes Bach’s St. John Passion, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, Mozart’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Verdi’s Requiem and A Sea Symphony by Vaughan Williams.
His tour de force performance of Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies was called “an amazing feat, making unnatural demands seem natural … bizarre behavior coalesced into a sympathetic portrayal” (The Salt Lake Tribune). He has commissioned and premiered numerous compositions by composers Derek Beryl, Robert Avalon, James Balentine, Laura Carmichael, John Vasconcelos Costa, Kevin Puts, Marcus Maroney, Pierre Jalbert, Karim Al-Zand, Anthony Brandt, Kieren MacMillian, David Passmore, David Cutler, Jeffrey Goldberg, David Heuser, Doug Opel and Jeffrey Nytch.
His annual appearances with Kevin Noe and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble are a highpoint of the season. The Salt Lake Tribune raved over his performance of Argento’s A Waterbird Talk conducted by Keith Lockhart, stating “Jones was a marvelous singing actor … his wry enjoyment was contagious.” His performance of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kevin Puts’ Einstein on Mercer Street is featured on PNME’s recent recording Against the Emptiness. Other recordings include Drunken Moon and The World of Ruth Crawford Seeger. Jones is an alumnus of Centenary College and the University of Michigan. He is currently a professor of voice at the University of Houston Moores School of Music.
Dr. Rober Istad: Artistic Director of Pacific Chorale
Dr. Robert Istad became the artistic director of Pacific Chorale in the 2017-2018 50th season, after serving as assistant conductor since 2004. He has conducted Pacific Chorale and Pacific Symphony in performance and has prepared choruses for a number of America’s finest conductors and orchestras, including: Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony, Esa–Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, as well as conductors Vasilly Sinaisky, Sir Andrew Davis, Bramwell Tovey, Thomas Wilkins, John Williams, Eugene Kohn, Steven Mercurio, Richard Kaufman, Eric Whitacre, William Lacey, Giancarlo Guerrero, Marin Alsop, George Fenton, Case Scaglione, Robert Moody, John Alexander, William Dehning and David Lockington.
Istad also serves as professor of music and director of choral studies at California State University, Fullerton, where he conducts the University Singers and Women’s Choir, in addition to teaching courses in conducting, advanced interpretation and literature. He and his singers were featured at the 2013 ACDA National Conference in Dallas, Tex. and the 2012 ACDA Western Division Conference in Reno, Nev. Istad’s University Singers also performed for the 2013 National Collegiate Choral Organization National Conference in Charleston, S.C.
Istad and the CSUF University Singers have performed all over the world, including a 2015 residency and performances in Paris, France, engagements at the 2012 Ottobeuren Festival of Music in Germany, the 2012 Eingen Festival of music in Germany, a 2010 performance for UNESCO in Pisa, Italy, and in 2008 at the world-famous Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary.
Istad received his bachelor of arts degree in music from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., his master of music degree in choral conducting from California State University, Fullerton and his doctor of musical arts degree in choral music at the University of Southern California.
He studied conducting with Dr. William Dehning, John Alexander and Dr. Jon Hurty. Istad is president of the California Choral Directors Association and is in demand as an adjudicator, guest conductor, speaker and clinician throughout the nation.
Founded in 1968, Pacific Chorale is internationally recognized for exceptional artistic expression, stimulating American-focused programming, and influential education programs. Pacific Chorale presents a substantial performance season of its own at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County, Calif., and is sought regularly to perform with the nation’s leading symphonies. Pacific Chorale has infused an Old World art form with California’s hallmark innovation and cultural independence, developing innovative new concepts in programming, and expanding the traditional concepts of choral repertoire and performance.
Pacific Chorale comprises 140 professional and volunteer singers. In addition to its long-standing partnership with Pacific Symphony, the Chorale has performed with such renowned American ensembles as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the National Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Musica Angelica.
Other noted collaborations within the Southern California community include the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Long Beach Symphony, Pasadena Symphony and Riverside Symphony. Pacific Chorale has toured extensively in Europe, South America and Asia, performing in London, Paris, Vienna, Budapest, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Estonia, Russia, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing and Hong Kong, and collaborating with the London Symphony, the Munich Symphony, L’Orchestre Lamoureux and L’Orchestre de St-Louis-en- l’Île of Paris, the National Orchestra of Belgium, the China National Symphony, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, the Estonian National Symphony and the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional of Argentina.
Education programs are central to Pacific Chorale’s vision of enriching and educating the community. Toward this aim, Pacific Chorale has produced innovative educational initiatives that have opened the door to the art of choral music and the magic of the creative process for thousands of students and adults annually, including: a Choral Academy for elementary school students modeled on the El Sistema movement; a Choral Camp presented in association with California State University, Fullerton providing high school students with training in music theory and vocal production; a Choral Festival uniting 400 community members each summer in a free community performance; affordable, accessible Musicianship Classes for community singers; Intro to the Arts and Passage to the Arts, partnerships with local social service organizations and high school choral directors that allow students, at-risk youth and low-income families to attend Pacific Chorale performances free of charge; a Young Composers Competition; Concert Previews that provide deeper insight into the repertoire that Pacific Chorale performs; and the Elliot and Kathleen Alexander Memorial Scholarship, awarded annually to an outstanding choral conducting student at California State University, Fullerton.
Pacific Chorale has received numerous awards from Chorus America, the service organization for North American choral groups, including the prestigious “Margaret Hillis Achievement Award for Choral Excellence,” the first national “Educational Outreach Award,” the 2005 ASCAP Chorus America Alice Parker Award for adventurous programming and the 2015 “Education and Community Engagement Award.”
Pacific Chorale can be heard on numerous recordings, including American Voices, a collection of American choral works; Songs of Eternity by James F. Hopkins and Voices by Stephen Paulus, featuring Pacific Symphony; a holiday recording, Christmas Time Is Here, on the Gothic Records label; a live concert recording of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vespers; the world premiere recording of Frank Ticheli’s The Shore for chorus and orchestra; and the world premiere recording of Jake Heggie’s choral opera The Radio Hour.
Pacific Chorale also appears on six recordings released by Pacific Symphony: Elliot Goldenthal’s Fire, Water, Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio; Richard Danielpour’s An American Requiem; Philip Glass’ The Passion of Ramakrishna; Michael Daugherty’s Mount Rushmore; Richard Danielpour’s Toward a Season of Peace; and William Bolcom’s Prometheus with pianist Jeffrey Biegel, all conducted by Carl St.Clair.