On Saturday John Alexander conducts the Pacific Chorale for the last time as artistic director. After a 45-year run – one of the longest in American choral music – Alexander will step aside and the group’s longtime assistant conductor, Robert Istad, will take his place beginning next season.
Istad studied under Alexander at California State University, Fullerton, and succeeded his mentor as director of the university’s choral studies program when Alexander retired from academia in 2006. He has worked with Alexander at the Pacific Chorale for well over a decade, learning every aspect of the group’s operation. To all appearances, Istad was a shoo-in to receive his colleague’s baton.
Not at all, Istad and Alexander insisted in a joint interview.
“He wasn’t anointed,” Alexander said. “We started looking more than three years ago. We looked all over the country and had some really wonderful candidates; Rob’s not the only talented conductor around.”
Alexander pointed at Istad and smiled. “But what we finally figured out was the strongest candidate was right here.”
While Istad’s experience with the choir certainly helped his chances, he also has a rare suite of skills that are necessary to helm the Pacific Chorale, Alexander said.
“First of all, you have to be a phenomenal musician to do this job. He is. And you have to be a wonderful person at the podium; people love working with him. And you also have to have…